There’s a new ray of hope for people waiting for a heart transplant as scientists were able to succeed in growing a functional and beating human heart in a laboratory using stem cells.
In the United States alone, around 4,186 patients are queuing for heart transplants and the number is growing. Although a notable increase has been noted in the success rate of heart transplant procedures in recent years, however, the scarcity in the number of actual donors is still an issue.
Although 3D printers are now able to produce organ segments using biological materials, taking this concept further by making a whole human heart is going to address other diseased parts of the heart that tissue segments would not be able to address.
Aside from the lack of donors, another pressing problem is that a transplanted heart may stand the chance of being rejected by the host’s immune system. The human immune system protects the body by attacking foreign tissue until it gets destroyed, by which the only way to stop this process from happening is to take immuno-suppressant drugs, but only works in some cases.
The joint research team from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School has taken this concept and used stem cells to ‘grow’ a human heart, which was developed inside a laboratory and was able to conduct successful tests in letting the bioengineered organ to beat successfully.
The researchers used donated heart organs that were declared unsuitable for transplantation for use a framework or ‘scaffold’ and started off by carefully immersing the organs in a detergent solution to strip away cells that would trigger the destructive response of the immune system, leaving a foundation structure to grow heart tissues and form heart cells.
Researchers then used ‘primitive’ stem cells- also called pluripotent stem cells– were reprogrammed to merge with the scaffold and cultured in a nutrient-based solution in the laboratory developed to mimic biological conditions to spur growth and development.
In two weeks, the lab-cultured heart cells still immature but already structured heart tissues and cells, were given bursts of electricity and triggered beating.
Although the researchers claimed that there is still a long way to go before they could fully develop an entire organ, but with hearts grown in laboratory using stem cells it is already a step closer to revolutionizing regenerative medicine and push for more scientific studies moving towards that direction.
Image Credit: Bernhard Jank, MD – Center for Regenerative Medicine