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Novel Hydrogel Could Provide Alternative to Pacemakers

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 01 Jul 2024

A heart attack not only poses immediate life-threatening risks but also leads to severe long-term health issues: 50 to 60% of survivors face sudden cardiac death due to arrhythmias. Currently, the most effective method to manage cardiac arrhythmias and avert sudden cardiac death is through the implantation of pacemakers. However, pacemakers do not prevent recurring arrhythmias. Researchers have now invented a novel gel to address this limitation of pacemakers and published their full study online in Advanced Materials.

This new gel, created by researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU, Erlangen, Germany) and the University of Bonn (Bonn, Germany), combines collagen, an effective and well-tolerated carrier substance, and PEDOT:PSS, an electrically conductive agent, to potentially prevent cardiac arrhythmias. Scar tissue formed post-heart attack disrupts electrical signals, which prevents the cardiac muscle cells from communicating properly with each other and beating in rhythm. While pacemakers, or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), can detect and correct arrhythmias by delivering shocks, they do not address the arrhythmias' root cause and can damage the heart due to the frequent shocks, causing significant distress and diminishing the patient's quality of life.

Image: A new hydrogel consisting of collagen could prevent cardiac arrhythmias (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: A new hydrogel consisting of collagen could prevent cardiac arrhythmias (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

The innovative gel can be directly injected into the heart's scar tissue to restore electrical conductivity, enhancing communication among cardiac cells. Early trials in animal models show the gel effectively prevents arrhythmias and ventricular tachycardia, potentially eliminating the need for the harsh shocks from ICDs. Nonetheless, extensive research is needed before it becomes available for human use. Challenges include the complexity of human cardiac scars compared to those in animal models and unknown potential reactions from the human immune system to the hydrogel. Once these issues are resolved, the collagen PEDOT:PSS hydrogel may initially be tested in high-risk patients who are particularly impacted by the adverse effects of ICD shocks.

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