Technion - Israel Institute of Technology (Technion's Flickr)

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (Technion’s Flickr)

Scientists are using new technology to create heart muscle patches that can be grafted onto damaged hearts and beat in response to light.

The groundbreaking new research aims to overcome a major stumbling block in heart tissue engineering where grafted tissue does not always beat in sync with the rest of the heart.

Experts are growing heart muscle cells from stem cells which contain proteins sensitive to light, called rhodopsins.

The researchers hope that this light sensitive tissue can then be grafted on to a damaged heart, helping it beat more effectively to reduce the effects of heart failure without the risk of rhythm problems.

The work has also brought together two professors – Chris Denning from the UK and Lior Gepstein of Technion in Israel – who admit they are usually rivals.

Prof Denning, from the University of Nottingham, said: “For years Professor Gepstein and I have been competing to be the first in our field. But this project means that instead of each team doing the same things twice, we will be coordinating our efforts to ensure we can help heart patients as soon as possible.”

The research is being funded by the British Heart Foundation and the British Council’s Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange partnership.

“The grant ensures we can work on a very promising technique for solving one of the major challenges in regenerative medicine to mend a broken heart,” Prof Denning added.