When scientists want to find out how a new medication will affect the cardiovascular system, the traditional way of doing so is via animal or human trials. This takes time, can be potentially harmful to the test subjects, and doesn't always deliver conclusive results. Thanks to a device created at Coventry University in the UK, however, the testing process may soon be quicker, safer and more reliable.

The system was developed by Dr. Helen Maddock of Coventry's Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences, and is known as a work-loop assay.

It incorporates a piece of live human heart tissue, which is mounted in such a way that it can contract and expand in response to electrical stimulation – much like the heart beats in the body. When a trial drug is introduced to the tissue, the array is able to detect any resulting changes in the force of the contractions.

Dr. Helen Maddock at the Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences

"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," said Maddock. "It has the potential to shave years off the development of successful drugs for a range of treatments."

The technology is now being developed further by InoCardia Ltd, a Coventry spin-off company. A multinational biopharmaceutical company is reportedly already interested in commercializing it.

Along similar lines, scientists at Harvard University have grown beating heart tissue that exhibits Barth syndrome (a cardiovascular disorder), so that treatments can be tested on it instead of human test subjects.

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