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New technology enables study of beating human heart tissue

Heart Foundation funding for a new tissue culture system will allow researchers to study beating human heart samples in the laboratory. The system will be used to investigate the underlying mechanisms of heart disease and safely test the effects of drugs on the human heart.

University of Auckland researcher Dr Amelia Power and her team are preparing to scale up their research thanks to a specialised MyoDish tissue culture system which is the first of its kind in New Zealand. This relatively recent technology is already being used in labs around Europe.  

Experiments on human heart tissue function can currently be performed for up to eight hours but the new MyoDish system will support experiments up to three weeks long.  

Research capacity will be greatly increased with the new system, allowing up to eight heart muscle experiments to be run at once on a single patient sample. 

Using the tissue culture system, Amelia and her team can more accurately investigate the underlying mechanisms of heart disease and improve treatments. 

"This new technology paves the way for translating heart research into clinical care more quickly and is a huge asset to our team," explains Amelia. 

The culture system will allow Amelia to study beating heart tissue samples over several weeks to evaluate the mechanisms of heart dysfunction and test the effects on the heart of new and existing drugs.  

"These precious heart samples are donated with informed consent by patients undergoing cardiac surgery." 

Research into cardiotoxicity – the heart side-effects of medications – has the potential to make a widespread impact, as a large proportion of people worldwide take long-term medications for chronic illnesses. One of the first drugs they'll study is clozapine, which is used to treat schizophrenia. 

There's a real benefit for New Zealanders from introducing this system here. "Having access to samples that reflect the unique New Zealand population could lead to treatment strategies that benefit our population specifically," explains Amelia. 

The MyoDish system provides a unique model for heart research and will boost future collaborations for Amelia. This is valuable for the early-career researcher who is establishing connections in her research field.  

"I'm really grateful to the Heart Foundation for funding this system which allows us to scale up our research and will speed up the transition to clinical trials," says Amelia. 

Outside the lab Amelia volunteers to share her knowledge of the heart with school children and hopefully inspire the next generation of heart researchers.  

"The most rewarding part is engaging with high school students and explaining the science to help them understand their family heart events or heart conditions," says Amelia.