Harnessing the capabilities of in situ gelling systems and stem cells to treat myocardial infarct.

Hydrogel delivery systems have generated considerable interest, since quite some time, in the medical world. Recent developments in the field of polymer science and technology have created exciting new possibilities that may turn around completely, conventional delivery methods. IITB-Monash Research Academy scholar Edmund Carvalho hopes to contribute significantly to this development of new cellular/therapeutic delivery methods by developing a system by which stem cells or progenitor cells and small molecules can be delivered to a specific portion of the heart which is dying or dead due to an obstruction in blood supply, also known as a myocardial infarct. This delivery is accomplished through polymers which can turn into a gel within the body, called in situ gels.

World Health Organization (WHO) statistics 2008 state that ischemic (caused due to local deficiency of blood) heart disease related deaths account for 12.7% of deaths worldwide, and tops the list of reasons for death. The mode of treatment thus far has involved transplantation of therapeutics, especially cells, to the site of the infarct to ease the condition. The treatment for myocardial infarct thus far has seen the implementation of numerous methods of transplanting the cells. In an attempt to improve the cardiac condition after the infarct, various stem cell types like bone marrow stem cells, skeletal muscle cells and the like have also been used. However none of these have been able to restore cardiac health to optimum after an infarct. The cardiac tissue primarily comprises an arrangement of muscles and blood vessels. The former consists of cardiac muscle cells that are capable of contracting, called myocytes, and the latter, endothelial and smooth muscle cells. The cells that are to be delivered to the site of the infarction have to necessarily include these two types of cells. The method of delivery of these cells can be either systemic (throughout the body) or localized (specific site of the condition). Edmund Carvalho’s research aims to focus on the use of a localized delivery of stem cells or other specific cells using in-situ gels, in order to study its effects in moderating a myocardial infarct. The process by which this system is administered is very simple:

  • The stem cells are combined with the gelling material in a liquid form, outside the body
  • When injected into the body, the in situ gelling material solidifies into a gel
  • They retain the cells/therapeutics at the site.

The research also hopes to gain further insight into the challenging area of stem cell research, since not a lot is known about it even at this stage. The behavior of these cells in a three dimensional environment, when used along with in situ gels, is another aspect of the research that promises a better understanding of the way stem cells work. This study may throw further light on the best possible ways of delivering the cells to the site of the infarct, revealing possibilities of using certain other materials for applications in vivo.

Edmund Carvalho reflects on his work saying “This project gives me insight into the cells that create life. I am interested in any therapy that can give life to an individual-in this case, heart attacks-adding value to living itself”. This study is a harbinger of a new and dynamic amalgamation of polymer science technology and stem cell research. It beams through as a ray of hope for innumerable individuals who have thus far resigned themselves to the vagaries of myocardial infarct, for lack of better alternatives.

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a Joint Venture between the IIT Bombay, India and Monash University, Australia. Opened in 2008, the IITB-Monash Research Academy operates a graduate research program located in Mumbai that aims at enhancing research collaborations between Australia and India. Students study for a dually-badged PhD from both institutions, and spend time during their research in both India and Australia.

Research scholar: Edmund Carvalho, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: In situ gelling nanoparticulate systems as scaffolds for tissue engineering using stem cells

Supervisors: Prof Rinti Banerjee, Prof Kerry Hourigan, Prof Paul Verma

Contact details: edmund.carvalho@iitb.ac.in

For more information and details on this technology, email research@iitbmonash.org The above story was written by Ms. Sheba Sanjay based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy.