Drinking to heart health

The mystery surrounding the potential benefits of green tea and red wine for the human heart may soon be revealed using an ultrasonic tool able to test cell integrity.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) claim they have developed a system that can effectively simulate the stresses placed on damaged cardiac myocytes (the contractile cell from the heart) to better understand the onset of heart conditions such as cardiac ischemia.

’We believe that if we can acoustically induce fluid flows to produce tiny mini-vortices around a cell, we can simulate how a cell reacts when it is undergoing stresses,’ said Prof Paul Townsend, one of the investigators on the EPSRC-backed project in collaboration with Genetix.

The team plans to generate the mini-vortices using a technique called ultrasonic micro streaming. This uses ultrasound in the lower megahertz frequency to manipulate micro-bubbles, which will then be used to target individual cells with a controlled level of trauma.

According to Townsend, the tool will be particularly valuable in examining the outer plasma membrane of a cardiac myocyte and how it reacts when pretreated with certain compounds, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea.

’Ultimately, what we want to do is find a cardio-protective treatment,’ Townsend said. ’So, for example, tannins in tea are meant to be good for us to an extent. We’re trying to make better compounds from that information and this device will give us a mathematical way of being able to understand what we’re doing.’

Ischaemic heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in an ageing population and responsible for 12.2 per cent of all deaths globally. As well as providing preventive treatment, Townsend said that simulating damage to the outer cell of cardiac myocytes could help doctors during post-trauma treatment.

He added: ’This work could be valuable for a range of research being carried out into heart disease. One problem is that we’re looking at cells in suspension, whereas the cells in the heart are in an organ… there may be some biocompatibility problems in the future, but this research is just a starting block.’

While the research at UCL is being carried out on rodent cells, the group hopes that progress of cell-based therapies will increase the availability of human cardiac myocytes and further advance research in this area.