Professor Doris Taylor and his team at the University of Minneapolis have done the impossible. They have successfully “built” a beating heart in the lab, an organ potentially suitable for autologous transplants, at least for rats and pigs in whom the research was conducted.
By using a process called whole organ decellularization, scientists from the University of Minnesota Center for Cardiovascular Repair grew functioning heart tissue by taking dead rat and pig hearts and reseeding them with a mixture of live cells. The research will be published online in the January 13 issue of Nature Medicine.
“The idea would be to develop transplantable blood vessels or whole organs that are made from your own cells,” said Doris Taylor, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair, Medtronic Bakken professor of medicine and physiology, and principal investigator of the research.
Nearly 5 million people live with heart failure, and about 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. Approximately 50,000 United States patients die annually waiting for a donor heart.
While there have been advances in generating heart tissue in the lab, creating an entire 3-dimensional scaffold that mimics the complex cardiac architecture and intricacies, has always been a mystery, Taylor said.
It seems decellularization may be a solution – essentially using nature’s platform to create a bioartifical heart, she said.
Decellularization is the process of removing all of the cells from an organ – in this case an animal cadaver heart – leaving only the extracellular matrix, the framework between the cells, intact.
After successfully removing all of the cells from both rat and pig hearts, researchers injected them with a mixture of progenitor cells that came from neonatal or newborn rat hearts and placed the structure in a sterile setting in the lab to grow.
The results were very promising, Taylor said. Four days after seeding the decellularized heart scaffolds with the heart cells, contractions were observed. Eight days later, the hearts were pumping.