A novel study published in the medical-journal Circulation Research describes how a team of scientists from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital managed to regenerate working human-heart tissue using adult skin cells.
The study details how the scientists transformed adult skin cells into pluri-potent stem cells (stem cells are the basic blocks of life, i.e. “default” cells which can morph into any type of cell in the body) using a brand new technique, namely messenger RNA. After the skin cells were transformed into stem cells, the latter were induced to become 2 different types of cardiac cells.
For 2 weeks, the hearts were “fed” using a nutrient solution which mimicked the way the “real” heart develops/grows inside the human body.
After the 2 weeks period, the hearts were “ready to go” so to speak, as they displayed well structured tissue, which looked very similar to what’s contained in “natural” (immature) developing human hearts.
The stem-grown hearts started beating after they were jump started, i.e. shocked with electricity. This technological breakthrough represents great news for the 4000 Americans who are on the waiting list for heart transplants, of which just 2500 will receive new ones in the next year.
Even the lucky ones will have to face big risks, as their bodies will launch a massive immune reaction after the transplant against the new heart, which will be regarded as foreign/invading cells.
In order to mitigate the rejection issue with transplants, scientist have been working for years at creating synthetic organs using the patient’s own cells and considering today’s breakthrough, they’re very close to achieve that.
Truth be told, this is not the first time “artificial heart tissue” was grown inside a lab, but it’s definitely the closest scientists have come to reach their end-game: growing a “lock stock” working human heart. While they’re not there yet, i.e. they’ll have to improve their yield of stem cells and also to find a method to mature the cells quicker, in the near future heart transplants will become more common and sans the rejection issues of today.
Photo Credit: Bernhard Jank, MD, Ott Lab, Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital