Myocardial infarction (heart attack) is the number one killer of heart patients. Existing treatments for heart attack do not address the underlying problem of cardiomyocyte (CM) loss and cannot regenerate the myocardium. Introducing exogenous cardiac cells is required for heart regeneration due to the lack of resident progenitor cells and very limited proliferative potential of adult CMs. Poor retention of transplanted cells is the critical bottleneck of heart regeneration. Here, we report the invention of a poly(l-lactic acid)–poly(ethylene glycol)–poly(N-Isopropylacrylamide) copolymer and its self-assembly into nanofibrous gelling microspheres (NF-GMS). The NF-GMS undergo thermally responsive transition to form not only a 3D hydrogel after injection in vivo, but also exhibit architectural and structural characteristics mimicking the native extracellular matrix (ECM) of nanofibrous proteins and gelling proteoglycans or polysaccharides. By integrating the ECM-mimicking features, injectable form, and the capability of maintaining 3D geometry after injection, the transplantation of hESC-derived CMs carried by NF-GMS led to a striking 10-fold graft size increase over direct CM injection in an infarcted rat model, which is the highest reported engraftment to date. Furthermore, NF-GMS carried CM transplantation dramatically reduced infarct size, enhanced integration of transplanted CMs, stimulated vascularization in the infarct zone, and led to a substantial recovery of cardiac function. The NF-GMS may also serve as advanced injectable and integrative biomaterials for cell/biomolecule delivery in a variety of biomedical applications.
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