New hope may lie in lab-created heart

By | October 16, 2008

New hope may lie in lab-created heart

Creating a replacement heart for some of the sickest patients may be one step closer, if new research in rats pans out in humans.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota were able to create a beating heart using the outer structure of one heart and injecting heart cells from another rat.

Their findings are reported in the journal Nature Medicine.

Rather than building a heart from scratch, which has often been mentioned as possible use for stem cells, this procedure takes a heart and breaks it down to the outermost shell. It’s similar to taking a house and gutting it, then rebuilding everything inside. In the human version, the patient’s own cells would be used.

“We took a rat heart and used soap to wash out the cells of the heart,” said Doris Taylor, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair, Medtronic Bakken professor of medicine and physiology and lead author of the study.

The process is called “decelluarization.” To do this, Taylor and her team hung up the heart from a dead rat, introduced a regular soap solution into the top of the organ, and let gravity do the work. The soap moved through the heart’s blood vessels, dissolving existing cells, which dropped out of the bottom. This process was repeated until only the outermost casing of the heart was left, resulting in a “white, almost gelatin-looking heart,” Taylor explained. This would be the equivalent of the gutted house.

The rebuilding started with injecting new heart cells, in this case cells from baby lab rats, and pumping them through the heart. By treating the cells as heart cells would be treated and using a pacemaker to help them learn how to pump, they grew into a heart that could pump — essentially rebuilding the organ’s interior.

Taylor says they’ve already started experimenting with pig hearts, which are closer in size to human hearts and because pig hearts are already used for replacement parts for some human heart patients.

The goal is to increase options for human heart patients. The body would be less likely to reject an organ created from its own cells. … Currently, a donor heart must be transplanted within the maximum of four hours. Sometimes the suitable patient is more than four hours away. Doctors could use the organs that can’t be transplanted in time to build the scaffolding to grow future hearts. Taylor thinks this could be done. Then, bone marrow cells or blood cells or cells taken from the patient’s heart biopsy — or possibly even stored umbilical cord blood cells — could be injected into a heart scaffold to grow a new heart. – cnn

The exciting thing is that this technique will work for lungs, livers, and other organs.

Note to self: Store umbilical cord blood cells of any kids I have.

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