Dr. Helen Maddock, from the Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences at Coventry University, is an expert in cardiovascular physiology and pharmacology. She believes her new technique could improve the quality of treatment and save hundreds of patients' lives.
The new technique allows scientists to assess adverse cardiovascular effects of new drugs first without using animal or human trials.
It works by using an in vitro technique - meaning "in glass," as it is carried out in a lab environment rather than in a living organism. Dr. Maddock uses a sample of heart tissue attached to a rig that enables the muscle to lengthen and shorten while being stimulated by an electrical impulse.
This action imitates the biomechanical performance of cardiac muscle, she explains.
Next, scientists can add trial drugs to the tissue in order to conclude whether or not they have a negative effect on the contraction of the muscles in the heart. Previously, researchers could only perform such a test on living animals, often with inconclusive results.
Because a major reason for why many medical treatments fail is negative effects of the drugs on the cardiovascular system, Dr. Maddock's technique could revolutionize the way drugs are tested before they even reach animal or human trials.
'Potential to shave years off development of successful drugs'
Her technique, called a "simulated" cardiovascular system and also known as a work-loop assay, is the most realistic heart muscle dynamic model in the world at present, one that creates the possibility of determining the negative effects of certain drugs early and without great cost.
In addition to saving lives, it could expedite development of drug treatments that work without major cardiovascular side effects.
"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," says Dr. Maddock. "It has the potential to shave years off the development of successful drugs for a range of treatments."
To implement her technique in the pharma industry, she formed a spin-out company from Coventry University called InoCardia Ltd, which has already received a £250,000 ($427,000) investment from Mercia Fund Management, a UK-based technology firm.Dr. Maddock adds:
"Both the pharma industry and regulators recognize 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 without the need to test on humans or animals."
She and her company are currently in discussions with a multinational biopharmaceutical company regarding applying her assay in industry.
Recently, Medical News Today reported on a gene transplant procedure that transforms heart cells into a biological pacemaker that regulates the heart's beating. The procedure could mean heart patients no longer need to have an implanted pacemaker, which carries certain side effects, such as infection of the leads connecting the pacemaker to the heart.