The heart exhibits a talent to change in response to its environment, which doesn’t make it the easiest of test subjects. For example, athletes in good physical condition put rigorous demands on the body, thus the heart enlarges, according to Biophysical Society. On the other end of the spectrum, hearts in patients suffering from chronic hypertension lose elasticity and gain thickness, which according to Biophysical Society, can ultimately lead to failure.
To up understanding of heart physiology and facilitate new medicines for heart disease, scientists have to work around the remodeling of heart tissue while in the lab. Researchers at Imperial College London may have found a potential solution, thanks to their newly developed system to study heart tissue as it would exist in the body.
According to Biophysical Society, “Using tiny pieces of heart tissue with preserved structure and function, they were able to recapitulate the sequence of mechanical events as found in the body. This was done by creating a custom bioreactor that allows the tissue to shorten in sync with electrical stimulation.”
Therefore, a novel bioreactor was born that could contract and stretch just like it does within the human body. To put their device to the test, the team added noradrenaline and altered the tissue’s workload to mimic standard conditions and disease. And they had good news to report, observing force changes comparable to in vivo hearts.
According to Biophysical Society, computer algorithms allow researchers to change the contraction parameters, and this “new aspect” enables them to switch between normal and unhealthy conditions.
Cesare Terracciano, professor of Cardiac Electrophysiology at Imperial College London, says, “If you have high blood pressure, you affect how the heart cells work. We can recreate this condition to understand what happens at the level of the tissue.”
“We now have a unique tool to study the mechanical and electrical properties of heart tissue, as well as long-term changes that happen at the molecular level within the context of healthy heart or disease,” graduate student Fotios Pitoulis adds.
The research team will present their findings at Maryland’s 63rd Biophysical Society Annual Meeting, which takes place March 2-6.