This incredible device could be a lifesaver for heart attack victims

11 Jun 2018

Image: unverdorben jr/Shutterstock

A new minimally invasive device could be a lifesaver for patients who have experienced a heart attack, allowing for regular treatments for the rest of their lives.

As if experiencing a heart attack wasn’t bad enough, the subsequent risks posed by the build-up of scar tissue can be just as life-threatening.

Additionally, current therapies exploring the prevention of this build-up have involved drugs, proteins and adult stem cells, all of which come with negatives, including their inability to stay at their intended target as well as the potential toxic side effects.

So, it can be seen as welcome news that a joint US-Irish research team has unveiled a new minimally invasive device that could substantially change the lives of those living after a heart attack, without needing a number of procedures or experimental treatments.

Major US-Ireland collaboration

The breakthrough was the result of a collaboration between Harvard, MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital in the US; and NUI Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science centre.

Called Therapi, the device is placed directly on the heart and comprises a reservoir of drugs or cells that can be refilled multiple times from a port under the skin.

This, the team documented in a paper published to Nature Biomedical Engineering, allows for localised, refillable, heart-targeted therapy delivery. In a pre-clinical model of a heart attack, it showed that the device can increase heart function over four weeks when stem cells are repeatedly delivered to the reservoir.

Diagram of how Therapi works

An illustration of how Therapi delivers medication to the heart. Image: NUI Galway

‘This is only the beginning’

The new system is believed to harbour vast potential for advancing research as a tool to characterise optimal targeted drug dosing, while giving the first step towards translating a device to the clinic that allows multiple non-invasive therapy replenishments over time.

Co-first author of the study is Prof Ellen Roche, an associate professor at MIT and a former researcher at NUI Galway who exploded on to the global medtech scene last year for her work on the development of a soft robotic sleeve wrapped around the heart to prevent its failure, a device she revealed at Inspirefest 2017.

Roche said: “For us, this is only the beginning of multiple ongoing studies that will use this system as a platform device for therapy delivery to the diseased heart, and as a research tool to further scientific understanding of the effects of a localised, refillable treatment regimen at various diseased organs.

“It was a privilege to work with a talented, multidisciplinary, inter-institutional team to make this study possible.”

Also speaking of its potential role in future healthcare, senior co-author of the study, Prof Garry Duffy of AMBER, said: “I have no doubt that the development of Therapi will impact care for patients with heart disease in the future, and its main advantage allows for treatment to be tailored to individual patient need.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic