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Penn lab promises a new frontier in cardiac repair

Jason Burdick at Quorum

For patients who suffer heart attacks, the resulting damage to the organ can eventually lead to heart failure. Now a University of Pennsylvania lab is investigating the use of injectable biomaterials that show promise as a new frontier in cardiac repair.
Speaking at the University City Science Center’s Quorum, Dr. Jason Burdick, a Penn bioengineering professor, described how "hydrogels" have delivered promising results that "might be the difference between going on to heart failure or not." (Bioengineering encompasses concepts from biology and engineering; many areas of the field focus on biomedical applications.) 
The Burdick Polymeric Biomaterials Lab at Penn was established 10 years ago and immediately began work on hydrogels. The study of cardiac repair began around seven years ago. The aim is to create substances that go directly into the heart tissue to preserve the heart wall thickness and the overall shape of the heart, frequently damaged by heart attack or "myocardial infarction."
"Injectability is an interesting engineering problem," explains Burdick. The challenge is to get the gelatinous gloop to flow through syringes and catheters, solidify and stay stable in the heart tissue.
Burdick and his team are making progress using a class of hydrogels based on the molecule hyaluronic acid, already widely used in cosmetic and musculoskeletal procedures. A few small clinical studies are already underway.
"The next step is really defining the right formulation that we are interested in pursuing, so that we can finalize pre-clinical large animal trials," he says. "This involves selection of the appropriate method for delivery of the hydrogels to the heart. Hopefully we will move towards a Phase I clinical trial in just a few years."
Burdick is careful to credit clinical collaborators at Penn and other schools, notably Robert Gorman, a Penn professor of cardiovascular surgery. The two have founded a startup called Myostratum that is focused on the translation of hydrogel therapies.
"I believe this is an exciting area that has a lot of potential to develop new therapies for patients that have myocardial infarction," adds Burdick. "Many people are affected by heart disease and the development of therapies that can improve clinical outcomes is very important."
Source: Dr. Jason Burdick, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania
Writer: Elise Vider

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
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