A painstaking effort to create a biocompatible patch to heal infant hearts is paying off at Rice University and Texas Children's Hospital. The proof is in a petri dish in Jeffrey Jacot's lab, where a small slab of gelatinous material beats with the rhythm of a living heart.
Jacot, lead author Seokwon Pok, a post-doctoral researcher at Rice, and their tissue-engineering colleagues have published the results of years of effort to produce a material called a bioscaffold that could be sutured into the hearts of infants suffering from birth defects. The scaffold, seeded with living cardiac cells, is designed to support the growth of healthy new tissue. Over time, it would degrade and leave a repaired heart.
The research was detailed in the Elsevier journal Acta Biomaterialia.
Patches used now to repair congenital heart defects are made of synthetic fabrics or are taken from cows or from the patient's own body. About one in 125 babies born in the United States suffers such a defect; three to six of every 10,000 have what's known as a defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, a cause of ''blue baby syndrome'' that requires the surgical placement of a patch across the heart's right ventricular outflow tract.
Current strategies work well until the patches, which do not grow with the patient, need to be replaced, said Jacot, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University, director of the Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering Laboratory at the Congenital Heart Surgery Service at Texas Children's Hospital and an adjunct professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
''None of those patches are alive,'' Jacot said, including the biologically derived patches that are ''more like a plastic'' and are not incorporated into the heart tissue.