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Clinical Articles, Lead Article

New technique uses ‘simulated’ human heart to screen drugs

Samples of beating heart tissue can be used to test the effect of drugs on the heart without using human or animal trials, through a new technique developed at Coventry University.

Developed by Dr Helen Maddock (Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences, Coventry University, UK), the in vitro technique uses a specimen of human heart tissue attached to a rig allowing the muscle to be lengthened and shortened whilst being stimulated by an electrical impulse, mimicking the biomechanical performance of cardiac muscle.

Trial drugs can then be added to the tissue to determine whether or not they have an adverse effect on the force of contraction of the muscle (and therefore of the heart), a test that could only previously be performed in vivo.

Dr Maddock has formed a spin-out company – ‘InoCardia Ltd’ – to begin implementing her groundbreaking technique in the pharma industry, and it has already received a quarter of a million pound investment from Warwickshire-based technology investment firm Mercia Fund Management.

Dr Maddock, who spent almost ten years developing the technique, said: “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.”

Screen shot 2014-09-26 at 10.16.24

Dr Helen Maddock (Coventry University, UK)

“Both the pharma industry and regulators recognise that existing methods of assessing the contractility of the heart are fraught with problems, so we’re incredibly excited to be able to introduce a new way to accurately determine the safety of drugs in respect of the heart, potentially reducing the need to test on humans or animals,” she added.

Speaking to BJC Arrhythmia Watch, Dr Maddock said: “InoCardia has developed a range of novel clinically relevant cardiac contractility assays in order to determine the cardiovascular safety of lead compounds. InoCardia is currently developing novel human tissue and cell based assays, to assess cardiovascular liability associated with changes in cardiac contractility that have the potential to be more predictive than existing assays”.

“InoCardia is the first company to show that the human traberculae work-loop method of data analysis provides a more realistic model of heart muscle dynamics and hence that this technique may effectively be used to screen for the positive and negative inotropic effects of drugs, and therefore the potential cardiotoxic effects of drugs,” Dr Maddock added.

Published on: September 26, 2014

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