Thomas Eschenhagen, from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, and colleagues have grown a patch of heart tissue that pumps and beats like a real atrium. Applications include repairing small patches of the heart and even further down the line – utilizing stem cell therapy for non-surgical organ harvesting, saving many lives in the process.
This study was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports
Dr Eschenhagen said that “Our human heart muscle strips in the dish come closer to human physiology, making the predictive value of these tests better than existing animal experiments,” he told Newsweek. According to researchers the new tissue can express genes and respond to drugs just like an ordinary heart would. Furthermore they suggest that it may be used to create a near identical model of the hearts atrium, where blood is exchanged between the heart and arterial system.
Scientists create the tissue by exposing stem cells to a form of vitamin A metabolite. Stem cells have the unique ability to sense the environment for indication of what kind of cell to become. In this case Vitamin A Metabolite is likely associated with the creation or presence of heart tissue, so that is the form that stem cells will assume. The heart is actually the first organ to develop in the body. Much in the same way as this experiment – differentiating from a culture of stem cells, which can, in fact be considered, the primordial origin of all other cells in the body.
As far as the experiment is concerned, this replicated heart tissue was not perfect. Though it did maintain a heart beat, and resident Cardiomyocytes do closely approximate their more natural counterparts. One particularly distinguishing feature of this heart tissue is that it can last several weeks – much longer then previous attempts. “something you can’t do with any other method. We are pretty excited about it and have numerous labs worldwide following us, including the FDA.”
Although the team itself does not envision growing the entire heart “I personally think that the goal is too ambitious,” other companies are strictly pursuing just that – 3D printing, stem cell and hydrogel assisted fabrication of organ structures that could help end the illegal organ harvesting industry, not to mention the chances involved in replacing one legally. The heart does seem to be a particularly complex pursuit however, most of them are working more with kidneys and livers, though a week or so ago scientists did succeed in 3D printing blood vessels – another step along the way to treating cardio-repiratory disease perhaps.
As for this particular research team however Marta Lemme, first author of the study, said in a statement: “For us, the next step is to test various means to induce arrhythmias, study mechanisms of electrical remodeling of atrial fibrillation and test new potential drugs.”