Press release issued: 31 July 2023
A University of Bristol researcher who developed a new revolutionary type of ‘heart plaster’ that could improve the way surgeons treat children living with congenital heart disease has been shortlisted for the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) Research Story of the Year, part of the charity’s annual Heart Hero Awards.
Massimo Caputo, BHF Professor of Congenital Heart Surgery in the Bristol Heart Institute at the University of Bristol, developed the first type of mesenchymal cell patch to repair abnormalities to parts of the heart that control blood flow from the heart to the lungs, and to mend holes between the two main pumping chambers of the heart.
Mesenchymal cells are a type of cell that have the ability to change into a range of cell types including muscle and cartilage. The patches have the potential to adapt and grow with the child’s heart as they get older, removing the need for repetitive heart surgeries as the heart gets bigger, and the many days at hospital recovering after each one.
The British Heart Foundation’s Heart Hero Awards recognise the awe-inspiring people who have gone the extra mile to help those with a heart and circulatory disease. This year‘s Research Story of the Year Award highlights three innovative BHF-funded research projects that have made a huge impact this year. The public can vote for their favourite on the BHF website until Sunday 20th August, and the winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Wednesday 6th December.
Heart defects are the most common type of anomaly that develop before a baby is born, with around 13 babies diagnosed with a congenital heart condition every day in the UK. These include defects to the baby’s heart valves, the major blood vessels in and around the heart, and the development of holes in the heart.
Currently, for many of these children, surgeons can perform open-heart surgery to temporarily repair the problem, but the materials used for the patches or replacement heart valves cannot grow with the baby and degenerate with time. This means they can fail in a few months or years.
A child might therefore have to go through the same heart operation multiple times throughout its childhood, which keeps them in hospital for weeks at a time, hugely impacts their quality of life and causes a lot of stress for the family.
The mesenchymal cell plasters are designed to be sewn into the area of the child’s heart that needs repairing during surgery. The cells could then boost the repair of heart tissue without being rejected by the child’s body.
There are around 200 repeat operations for people living with congenital heart disease every year in the UK. The researchers estimate the technology could save the NHS £30,000 for every operation no longer needed, saving millions of pounds each year.
Professor Caputo aims to get these patches ready for testing in patients so clinical trials can start in the next two years, enabling more children and babies to benefit from the life-altering technology. The materials have already proven to work safely in animals.
Professor Caputo said: “For years families have come to us asking why their child needs to have heart surgery time and time again. Although each operation can be lifesaving, the experience can put an unbelievable amount of stress on the child and their parents. We believe that our mesenchymal cell patches will be the answer to solve these problems.
“My team and I are very proud to be shortlisted for the BHF’s Heart Hero Awards. It is an amazing recognition of all the work we have done to get to this point. We think that, with the BHF’s continuing support, these patches can soon be used widely to prevent the distress and dangers of repeated surgeries.“
Cast your vote for BHF Media Awards 2023 – Research Story of the Year here: bhf.org.uk/researchstoryvote
About the British Heart Foundation
It is only with donations from the public that the BHF can keep its life saving research going. Help us turn science fiction into reality. With donations from the public, the BHF funds ground-breaking research that will get us closer than ever to a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases. A world where broken hearts are mended, where millions more people survive a heart attack, where the number of people dying from or disabled by a stroke is slashed in half. A world where people affected by heart and circulatory diseases get the support they need. And a world of cures and treatments we can’t even imagine today. Find out more at bhf.org.uk