'Unlucky prick': Giving heart attack survivors new hope
Only a fraction of heart attack sufferers in Australia are lucky enough to receive a transplant, driving the need for cheaper, quicker and more reliable treatments.
Sean Richardson was just 55-years-old when he encountered a sudden immense pain in his chest during a bike ride with friends at Manly's North Head.
Not having any additional lifestyle risk factors for a heart attack, Sean describes himself as just an "unlucky prick".
"It just wasn't on my radar," Mr Richardson said.
Three stents later and the husband and father of two says if it wasn't for the hard work and research of scientists he would be dead.
In the latest breakthrough, a team from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), with key funding by Heart Research Australia, is giving more people like Sean a better chance of bouncing back after a heart attack.
The team are using 3D-printed tissue from stem cells to repair organs after heart attacks, in what they say is a global first.
Published in renowned academic journal, Bioprinting, the process involves creating personalised 'bio-inks' made of a patient's stem cells, which are then 3D-printed into heart tissues that can be used to repair damaged areas.
Head of the Cardiovascular Regeneration Group at UTS, Dr Carmine Gentile, said the method promises to be safer, more consistent and cost-effective for the patient.
"Our study demonstrated that bio-engineered patches were the best and most robust treatment of heart failure," Dr Gentile said.
"Patches generated with other approaches either did not induce any improvement or the improvement was inconsistent."
The patches take between three and six months to create using a patients blood from which the stem cells are drawn.
Following initial studies, the team found their method to be so effective that hearts which had undergone treatment appeared as if they never had a heart attack.
"They're similar to a healthy heart," Dr Gentile said.
Sean said we have to keep getting a better understanding of heart attacks and how to treat them so more like him can survive to remain with their families.
"Where I was lucky is a lot of stuff that they've invested in has meant my treatment, be it in the ambulance or at the hospital to stabilise my position, has come from research," he said.
"And I got the benefit of the research."
Further testing is underway before starting clinical trials.