The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body, and unfortunately also the most sensible one that is easily affected by various conditions. Since cardiovascular diseases are the ones that kill most people each year, scientists have been working hard on both their prevention and their treatment. Their latest achievement is the growth of functional heart tissue in the laboratory, which might become the difference between life and death for many people.
Those in need of a new heart will find one much easier than before. Usually, hearts do not come by easily, and when they do, there is a big chance they will not be compatible with the organism of the patient. The brilliant work of the scientists paves the way for a different type of transplant, where a match is no longer necessary.
The tissue was created from skin cells, which means that the new heart can be grown from the cells of the patient. There will be no more matches, and thus no more risk of rejecting the organ.
While this is a precious step towards this endeavor, the heart cannot be completely grown in a laboratory. The cells need to be shaped by a scaffold, an extracellular matrix made from proteins, which are in turn secreted by cells.
However, creating a heart from scratch is a difficult process. In this case, the scientists have decided to avoid building the matrices, but use 73 donor hearts that were deemed unsuitable for transplants. After striping them down to the extracellular matrix, they started with a natural scaffold, which permitted them to achieve this astonishing progress without using artificial materials.
The next step was to transform the skin cells into stem ones, and these evolved into cardiac muscles cells. The new cells grew into a contracting muscle tissue, and the result was placed in a bioreactor filled with a nutrient solution that could reproduce the natural conditions of a human heart. Two weeks later, the scientists noticed that their heart had already developed a normal contracting muscle tissue.
The revolutionary result needs to be further investigated and improved, but in good time, many people in need of a new heart will be able to create their own instead of assimilating another one. If only we could do the same with broken hearts.
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