An injectable gel that restores cardiac function after heart attack

Despite recent advancements in treatments and technologies, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) still claim about 17 million lives per year. This makes CVDs the #1 cause of morbidity worldwide. (Image: Ella Maru Studio)

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A heart attack is one of the most common CVDs and is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Current therapies are able to restore the blood supply to the heart, but they do not repair the damage that was done. In about 10% of cases, the damage is enough that the patient will develop heart failure, a condition that has 5-year mortality of ~50%. In addition, for patients that cannot receive immediate medical attention after a heart attack, this prognosis is even worse. Thus, there is a need for a therapeutic approach that both recover cardiac function and limits the damage that occurs after a heart attack.

The BioEngineering and Therapeutic Solutions (BEaTS) team at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute ( & @BEaTSResearch) in Canada has recently developed the first gel material for treating hearts after a heart attack that is prepared using recombinant human collagen [1]. Collagen is the main protein that maintains the structure of the heart, which is also damaged after a heart attack. The use of the human form of the protein will allow for easier future translation to the clinic.  

Caption: Dr. Emilio Alarcon (8th from left) poses with the members of his research team. He has travelled the world, he says, to assemble this talented group. From left to right: Antony El-Khoury (NSERC summer fellow), Madison Bak (MSc student), Brook Biniam (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP)), Ashley Baldwin (lab manager), Dr Veronika Sedlakova (postdoctoral fellow), Justina Pupkaite (PhD student), Sarah Mclaughlin (PhD student), Dr. Christopher McTiernan (postdoctoral fellow), Dr. Erik Suuronen (director, BEaTS), Maxime Comtois-Bona (co-op student), Dr. Marcelo Muñoz (postdoctoral fellow) and Alex Ross (MSc Student). Missing from photo: Dr. Marc Ruel, Zohra Khatoon, Erik Jacques, David Cortes, Michel Grenier, Keshav Goel. (Photo Credit: University of Ottawa).

To test the gel, an animal model was used that mimics a patient who has not responded to conventional therapy or who was delayed in getting medical treatment. The team’s results demonstrate that injection of the gel into the damaged heart of mice reduces pathological remodeling and restores the mechanical properties of the heart muscle. Importantly, the gel was able to limit the spread of the tissue damage, and restore some of the function that was lost. The treatment works, in part, by increasing the number of cardiac muscle cells and blood capillaries in the tissue surrounding the damaged area. The gel also promotes the recruitment of more wound healing cells to the site of injury.   

As people with damaged hearts are living longer, the incidence of heart failure is increasing. Therefore, a treatment capable of recovering cardiac function and preventing heart failure would have a tremendous health and societal impact worldwide. The therapy developed by the BEaTS team is a promising approach to accomplish this. This study is first step towards the development of a non-animal origin biomaterial therapy that is clinically translatable for treating heart attack patients.


[1] McLaughlin S, et al. Injectable human recombinant collagen matrices limit adverse remodeling and improve cardiac function after myocardial infarction. Nature Communications 10, 4866 (2019).

Emilio I. Alarcon

Associate Professor, University of Ottawa Heart Institute

Dr. Alarcon was born in Santiago, Chile. He received his B.Sc. in Chemistry under the supervision of Professor Eduardo Lissi, the most cited Scientist in Chile, at Universidad de Santiago de Chile (2005) exploring the chemiluminescent mechanisms of tryptophan oxidation. He then pursued his MSc and Ph.D. training in Chemistry, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (2009). Dr. Alarcon moved to Ottawa with his wife, where he undertook postdoctoral training (2009-2014) at Dr. Tito Scaiano’s laboratory, at the University of Ottawa. With his unique skills and vision for redefining translational research, Dr. Alarcon was recruited to the Division of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in July 2014 and became an Assistant Professor in 2015, and recently promoted to Associate Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Alarcon, though early in career, has already published over 80 articles (+40 since 2015 as an independent researcher) and +10 more are currently under review all in prestigious peer-reviewed journals (h-index is 24, i10 = 44), including Nature Communications, ACS Nano, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, Chemical Communications, Nanoscale, Nature Regenerative Medicine, to name a few. He has also published a number of book chapters, and acted as a lead editor for two books; Silver Nanoparticles on Biomedicine: ”Silver Nanoparticle Applications: In the Fabrication and Design of Medical and Biosensing Devices, ” 2015 (Springer), and “Nanoengineering Materials for Biomedical Uses,” 2019 (Springer Nature). Dr. Alarcon is also the founder of the first Live Streaming Science Radio from a laboratory: BEaTS Research Radio (, which aims to connect Scientist with their communities.