Coventry Researchers Use Simulated Beating Heart Muscles to Test Drugs


Coventry University scientists have developed a new technique to test drugs without risking the lives of humans or animals.

The "in vitro" technique, involving beating heart tissue samples, to test a drug's effectiveness could pave the way for enhancing the lives of hundreds of patients and the quality of their treatments.

Until now, researchers said that heart-related adverse side-effects of drugs can only be detected after it has been administered on patients in clinical trials - by which time it is too late.

In the newly-devised technique, a specimen of human heart tissue is attached to a rig allowing the muscles to move during electrical stimulation, mimicking the biomechanical functions of the heart. Trial drugs can then be introduced to the tissue to determine their adverse effects on the movement of heart muscles.

Previously, such tests could only be conducted on living animals that often end up with inconclusive results.

"I'm delighted that our research is at a stage where we can confidently say the work-loop assay we've created is the world's only clinically relevant in vitro human model of cardiac contractility. It has the potential to shave years off the development of successful drugs for a range of treatments," Dr Helen Maddock, from the Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences, said in a press release.

Researchers have established a spin-out company - InoCardia Ltd to introduce the technique in the pharma industry. The company has already received a quarter of a million pound investment from Warwickshire-based technology investment firm Mercia Fund Management.

"InoCardia benefits from a proprietary approach following many years of investigation by Helen and her team, and offers the potential for early screening of compounds in development without the initial need for extensive animal trials," said Mark Payton, managing director of Mercia Fund Management. 

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