Researchers develop device that increases heart function after heart attack

A collaborative team of researchers from NUI Galway, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Trinity, RCSI and AMBER, has developed a novel implantable tool that can deliver therapy directly to the heart multiple times from a port under the skin. It offers the potential to provide targeted treatment following a heart attack.

The study has just been published in the internationally respected journal, Nature Biomedical Engineering.

When a patient has a heart attack, additional scarring and remodelling can occur and ultimately lead to heart failure. Multiple therapies are being explored to prevent this disease progression including those using drugs, proteins and adult stem cells. The problems with delivering these treatments currently are that they don’t stay at their intended site on the beating heart, can cause toxic side effects, and often require multiple doses to elicit a clinical effect.

A group of investigators that included eight Irish researchers recently designed a device called Therepi that can be placed directly on the heart, comprising of a reservoir for drugs or cells that can be refilled multiple times from a port under the skin. This allows localised, refillable, heart-targeted therapy delivery. The researchers showed in a pre-clinical model of myocardial infarction (heart attack) that this device can increase heart function over four weeks when stem cells are repeatedly delivered to the reservoir.

This system has vast potential for advancing research as a tool to characterise optimal targeted drug dosing. Additionally, the study describes the first step towards translating a device to the clinic that allows multiple non-invasive therapy replenishments over time.

Professor Ellen Roche, co-first author of the study and Assistant Professor at MIT, said: “Our study demonstrates that Therepi can repeatedly deliver drugs, and increase retention of cells at the heart to increase function. 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 multi-disciplinary, inter-institutional team to make this study possible.”

Professor Garry Duffy, AMBER Investigator and Personal Professor in Anatomy at
NUI Galway and a senior co-author of the study, added: “I have no doubt that the development of Therepi 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. Therepi is a medical device that allows keyhole surgical placement of a depot or pouch to the outside surface of the heart, and this pouch can be topped-up with drugs or stem cells using a port that sits just below the skin.

“Our study shows that this local delivery with top-ups improves heart function after a heart attack in a pre-clinical model. It builds on a strong trans-Atlantic collaboration which has seen multiple researchers train at MIT and Harvard from Irish Institutions. Along with Professor Ellen Roche at MIT we are currently assessing Therepi’s utility in disease conditions where cell therapies can offer potential cures including Type 1 Diabetes. This collaboration builds on the strength of the ecosystem here for translational medicine at NUI Galway, and we hope to see devices like Therepi reach clinical trials over the coming years.”

Other researchers involved in the study include postdoctoral researchers, Fiona Weafer and Reyhaneh Shirazi from NUI Galway, William Whyte (co-first author) a Trinity/AMBER PhD student, who spent time at Harvard to work on the study, Hugh O’Neill, RCSI PhD graduate, and Bruce Murphy, Associate Professor in Biomechanical Engineering at Trinity.


Trinity College Dublin


Written by:
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