Beating heart built from stem cells

Heart transplants are a major issue: the waiting lists for them are so long that only about half of the patients waiting to receive one actually get the transplant in the next year. And even then, there is always the problem that the body will rejects the the foreign heart and thus launch a massive immune reaction against the foreign cells. However, scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School say they have gotten one stem closer to fighting the problem of organ shortage and organ rejection – they have used adult stem cells to regenerate functional human heart tissue.

Previously, the scientists wondered how they could reduce the likelihood of organ rejection in the body, and they discovered through experimentation on mice that it is possible to use detergent solution to remove the cells from a heart that might set off an immune response the recipient. After this discovery, they used the modified adult skin cells and turned them into pluripotent cells (cells that can specialise into any type of cell in the human body) using a new technique with mRNA. Finally, these pluripotent cells were induced to become two different types of cardiac cells.

Then the building begun; the cells were made into hearts using a scaffolding (like building a house with the frame already constructed) and the induced hearts were infused with nutrient solution – the allowed the heart to grow under similar forces to those a heart would be subject to inside the human body. After  about two weeks, well structured tissue developed that looked very similar to a real immature heart. The scientists have the heart a shock of electricity, and it started beating.

This isn’t the first time heart tissue has been grown in a lab, but being able to build a beating heart using stem cells is definitely one step closer to growing an full functioning human heart (even though this will still take quite some time). The scientists are next planning to try and increase the number of pluripotent cells they produce because a whole heart would require tens of billions of them. As well as this, the scientists would like to find a way to help the cells mature more quickly and perfect the body like conditions in which the heart develops. In the end, the researchers hope that they can create individualized hearts for their patients so that transplant rejection will no longer be a likely side effect.

In my opinion, I think this is a truly remarkable achievement – the fact that we have already gotten so close to making fully functioning hearts is incredible as it could potentially save millions of lives. We all know that the heart is one of the most complex and important organs in our body, and by managing to build a beating heart already means that the time is soon to come when the 17.5 million deaths from cardiovascular disease in the world will greatly reduce.

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog, feel free to ask any questions or comment your opinion on the use of stem cells to build organs. How long do you think it will take before we have a fully functioning heart made solely out of stem cells?

Thanks, Rohini

Regenerated heart

Above is a picture of the beating heart built by the science using stem cells.

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2 thoughts on “Beating heart built from stem cells

  1. That sounds so exciting! And if it works out, this could mean immune supressing drugs won’t be needed – every time they got a common cold, they wouldn’t really have to worry too much as their system would be working perfectly fine!

    • yeah exactly, life would be so much easier for people who would otherwise be worrying about the effects of the heart transplant on their body. who knows – maybe one day one of us may be perfecting the use of stem cells!

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