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    Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, and delivery of therapeutic cargo (e.g., particles loaded with proteins, drugs, or genes and cells) through direct injection into the myocardium is a promising clinical intervention. However, retention of deliverables to the contracting myocardium is low, with as much as 60-90% of payload being lost within 24 hr. Commercially-available injectable hydrogels, including Matrigel, have been hypothesized to increase payload retention but have not yielded significant improvements in quantified analyses. Here, we assess a recombinant hydrogel composed of chemically modified hyaluronan and elastin-like protein (HELP) as an alternative injectable carrier to increase cargo retention. HELP is crosslinked using dynamic covalent bonds, and tuning the hyaluronan chemistry significantly alters hydrogel mechanical properties including stiffness, stress relaxation rate, and ease of injectability through a needle or catheter. These materials can be injected even after complete crosslinking, extending the time window for surgical delivery. We show that HELP gels significantly improve in vivo retention of microsphere cargo compared to Matrigel, both 1 day and 7 days post-injection directly into the rat myocardium. These data suggest that HELP gels may assist with the clinical translation of therapeutic cargo designed for delivery into the contracting myocardium by preventing acute cargo loss.


    Riley A Suhar, Vanessa M Doulames, Yueming Liu, Meghan E Hefferon, Oscar Figueroa, Hana Buabbas, Sarah C Heilshorn. Hyaluronan and elastin-like protein (HELP) gels significantly improve microsphere retention in the myocardium. Biomaterials science. 2022 May 17;10(10):2590-2608

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    PMID: 35411353

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