Mohammad Izadifar

Student designs stem cell heart patch

University of Saskatchewan graduate student Mohammad Izadifar has developed a heart patch that in experimental animal research can re-grow damaged heart tissue, potentially revolutionizing heart disease treatment.

By Federica Giannelli
"Mohammad's research is a piece of pioneering work," said mechanical engineering professor Daniel Chen, Izadifar's supervisor. "Preliminary results using an animal model are promising. This novel heart patch has potential to benefit human patients around the world."

His findings have been published in three peer-reviewed articles in leading journals and presented at an international conference in Italy.

Izadifar, a biomedical engineering PhD student, estimates that this method for regeneration of damaged heart tissue could be ready for human trials within a decade.

Following a heart attack, blocked vessels can no longer bring blood to the damaged area to "feed" the cells. It is not possible for new healthy tissue to regenerate on its own, Izadifar said.

"The problem is that the heart cannot repair itself once damaged from a heart attack," he said. "If the heart tissue dies, it is not coming back."

Other scientific efforts to create heart patches have failed because they have not successfully integrated with heart tissue to supply the heart with new blood vessels and re-grow new tissue.

The design of Izadifar's patch may solve these problems.

His unique approach combines the use of a biodegradable patch, which contains stem cells, with biocompatible nanoparticles that are programmed to send signals to blood vessels in the heart to guide their regrowth in the damaged area and ensure a continual supply of blood.

The nanoparticles instruct the stem cells, which can become any type of cell in the body, to become heart cells in the patch and part of the heart, slowly regenerating it.

"With the help of this patch, a patient would be able to regenerate heart tissue from their own cells," said Izadifar. "It would be a permanent treatment for heart attack."

With Izadifar's patch, also called a "scaffold," the stem cells are contained within a porous jelly-like structure that is created with a 3D printer. Once surgically stitched onto the heart's damaged area, the patch slowly integrates with the organ. Because it is made of materials fully compatible with the body, it eventually dissolves.

He has also developed several other innovations. Guided by his co-supervisor and neurosurgery Michael Kelly, Izadifar has developed a new procedure to implant the patch in rats. The result is a 70-per-cent survival rate compared to the 50-per-cent rate reported for similar surgeries.

Once implanted, the patch is invisible to regular medical imaging, so Izadifar has also invented a special non-invasive imaging technique at the U of S Canadian Light Source synchrotron to monitor the healing process.

Funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Izadifar now wants to study the patch's long-term effects on rats.

He hopes his research can make a difference.

"Heart disease is everywhere," he said. "My grandmother died because of it."

The World Health Organization estimates that heart diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, with about 100,000 casualties every year and more than $20 billion for services and treatments in Canada alone.

Article written by Federica Giannelli, a graduate student intern in the U of S research profile and impact unit. This article first ran as part of the 2015 Young Innovators series, an initiative of the U of S Research Profile office in partnership with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.