TEL AVIV, Israel, March 14 (UPI) -- Scientists at Tel Aviv University created a bionic heart patch that combines organic and electronic parts that could allow doctors to monitor patients' heart function, according to a new study.
The scientists said the tissue was developed as a functional substitute to replace tissue permanently damaged in heart attacks and other conditions, and to improve the organ's function without needing a patient to come into the office.
The tissue may be an improvement over other tissue patches because, aside from being stronger, scientists were able to combine the tissue with electronics for monitoring and electrically stimulating the heart. The tissue patch can also release drugs directly into the heart to prevent its rejection.
While the idea is promising -- the scientists are looking at applying the basic concept to other replacement tissues -- the patch is still a proof-of-concept and has not been tested with people.
"With this heart patch, we have integrated electronics and living tissue," Dr. Tal Dvir, a professor at Tel Aviv University, said in a press release. "It's very science fiction, but it's already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way. Until now, we could only engineer organic cardiac tissue, with mixed results. Now we have produced viable bionic tissue, which ensures that the heart tissue will function properly."
For the study, published in the journal Nature Materials, the scientists outline the cardiac patch, which is a combination of engineered cardiac tissue and electronics.
The scientists used organic material because heart tissue contracts, adding electronics to allow the patch's function to be verified and monitored. Electroactive polymers in the electronics allow for the release of growth factors or small molecules remotely, allowing doctors to treat patients remotely.
Eventually, the patch may be able to self-regulate, fighting inflammation or improving the delivery of oxygen to its cells.
"This is a breakthrough, to be sure," Dvir said. "But I would not suggest binging on cheeseburgers or quitting sports just yet."