Last year, the British Heart Foundation launched ‘The Big Beat Challenge’, asking researchers to propose innovative solutions to tackling heart and circulatory disease. The winner will receive a funding award of £30 million to make their idea a reality. Here’s what made the shortlist.
Cyber Heart - a hybrid robotic heart
Half stem cells and half biotech, could be used in the future to replace heart transplantation. ‘The Cyber Heart’ idea was developed by a team of scientists at the Amsterdam University Medical Centre (UMC). It’s unlikely that Scientists will be able to develop a living heart from a patient’s own cells for decades to come, so this hybrid offers the chance to ease some of the organ donor shortages that exist. Even when a donor heart is available, the body may reject the organ, and treatments are needed which lower the immune system, putting patients at risk of infections and complications.
The hybrid robotic heart would be the first ever made from soft artificial muscles and sensors, with the first prototype being used in animals within three years and in humans by 2028. It will be powered by a wireless battery, which is connected to a jacket that the patient wears. The device contracts like a human heart to pump blood around the body and is surrounded by a tissue lining which is in contact with the blood and ensures it’s not rejected by the immune system.
iMap - a ‘Google map’ of atherosclerosis
A team from the University of Cambridge is building a ‘Google maps’ style 3D visualization of human atherosclerosis, the buildup arterial plaque which restricts blood flow and can lead to heart attack and stroke. The maps will show why the immune system defects, leading to the disease. It could identify new targets for immunotherapy, helping with development of medicines and vaccines to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Digital Twin– wearable tech to capture ‘more health data than ever before’
The tech will measure and relay symptoms, physical activity, heart function and air quality, to be used alongside genetic and healthcare data to support diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of heart and circulatory diseases. ECHOES stands for Enhancing Cardiac Care Through Extensive Sensing. The idea is that the data gathered will create a ‘digital twin’ of the person’s heart.
CureHeart – targeting faulty genes for cardiomyopathies
Cardiomyopathies are diseases of the heart muscle, usually inherited, that effect its size, shape and structure and can lead to sudden death or heart failure. The research aims to target and silence the faulty genes responsible, to halt disease progression or stop it before it starts.
The above teams have been given a small amount of funding to flesh out their ideas, and the winner of the award is expected to be announced at the end of the year – watch this space!
Why This Matters —
We’ve lived in an age of accelerations for the past decade — the sheer speed at which technology, media, marketing, and medicine are changing is bringing new hope, new opportunities and new possibilities. Advances like the above deserve attention, but today’s healthcare marketers must balance the hope of tomorrow’s therapies with the responsibility to help drive better healthcare decisions today. How can we leverage public interest in these potential advances to start conversations about what patients and providers can do today to make a positive impact?