Custom-built artificial hearts are still something from science fiction, but the engineering knowledge to get there is already being assembled in labs around the world. One important piece of the puzzle has just been reported on by researchers at Harvard University, who have built a model of the heart’s left ventricle, seeded with living heart cells, that beats on its own just like the real thing.
The device is made of a specifically engineered nanofiber scaffold throughout which living heart cells have been implanted. The scaffold, and the technique to make it, have also been designed by the Harvard researchers. A special technique called pull spinning creates the scaffold with a desired shape, while making sure that the biodegradable polyester and gelatin fibers are aligned in the same direction. The alignment, also seen within the connective fibers of a living heart, is what guarantees that the heart cells, which have an elongated shape, are positioned in the same direction and work together to generate beating within the model ventricle.
The technique can be used to study how different drugs affect a beating heart, the nature and causes of cardiac diseases, and as a general way to avoid using animals in research. Moreover, by seeding such cardiac mimics with a patient’s own heart cells, it may be possible to predict which therapies would be most beneficial for individual cases of heart failure and other severe cardiac conditions.
Here’s a looping video of an artificial ventricle beating:
This is video demonstrates the pull spinning production process:
And here’s the bioreactor the team built to test out the new ventricle:
Study in Nature Biomedical Engineering: A tissue-engineered scale model of the heart ventricle…