How do your brain and ear membranes work?
Scientists have long known that the membranes of the ear, mouth, and brain are connected, but what does that mean for the membranes in your heart?
A new study from researchers at the University of Chicago’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University School of Engineering suggests that the connections between the different parts of the body can be broken down, creating new connections.
“What you’re seeing is a kind of self-organization that’s happening in the body that has never been seen before,” says Anthony LeBlanc, the paper’s first author and a researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Applied Physics at Feinberg.
“We think this is a new mechanism for the heart, because you’ve never seen that before.
And it’s kind of amazing because it’s happening at a very low frequency and at a time when there’s so much stress on the heart.”
What makes this new finding so remarkable is that it’s the first time we’ve seen it happen with a synthetic material that’s actually been tested in a real heart.
The material, called CNT-9, is made up of a polymer polymer, and its structure allows it to connect to other proteins, even in the absence of an external conductor.
“It’s like you’re talking to a computer, but in the way that it is the brain and the ear and the heart,” says LeBlan.
“This is really exciting because it means that this material is actually very good at bridging the gap between the heart and the rest of the nervous system.”
In the study, published in the journal Science, the team of researchers demonstrated that the CNT9 material acts as a self-replicating membrane in the heart.
They found that the material is able to link to proteins that regulate the flow of blood, and the protein molecules also can bind to proteins in the membrane that regulate heart rate and electrical activity.
“The ability to link proteins is very important for maintaining the membrane’s integrity and that’s where the heart gets its energy,” says co-author Thomas Pappas, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.
“The CNT11 material is very good in that respect.
It can link directly to the membrane, which is really important because it allows us to get the proteins into the heart in a way that’s not possible with conventional membrane-based materials.”
The researchers tested the material on heart tissue, using it to replace a damaged cardiac valve.
The valve was then replaced by a piece of polymers that were similar in shape to CNTs.
When they removed the valve and placed it in a tissue culture dish, the researchers found that their new material allowed them to connect the valve to the heart at a much lower frequency than the original valve.
“You could say we’ve shown that the heart is a self replicating system,” says Pappa.
“It’s essentially like a living organ that’s self-assembling itself.”
This new research also demonstrates that the materials can be used to make a type of synthetic heart that would allow for artificial heart functions, like pumping and beating.
“These materials could be used in cardiac prostheses to replace damaged heart valves, and this would be a major advance in cardiac repair,” says Roberta Stadler, a bioengineering graduate student at Northwestern who was not involved in the research.
“But we have a lot of work ahead to figure out how we can actually create these materials that would enable artificial heart function.
But this is really a really important step forward.”
The new research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.