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Scientists are inching ever closer to manufacturing an artificial, lab-grown human heart after a team of University of Pittsburgh researchers successfully produced heart tissue that can beat autonomously. Using pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) generated from mature human skin, the team attached the cells to a mouse heart, and after 20 days of blood supply, the heart began beating autonomously. While it will still be quite some time before we see an entire lab-grown human heart, this development represents a pretty good start!
The team used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells)—mature cells that can be “reprogrammed” and developed into different types of cells—and induced them to become multipotential cardiovascular progenitor (MCP) cells, which are basically precursor heart cells that grow into muscle. The scientists then “decellularized,” or removed all the cells, from a mouse heart, and attached the iPS cell-derived MCPs onto the decellularized mouse organ. Amazingly, after about three weeks, the mouse heart had been completely rebuilt with human heart cells, and it began beating autonomously.
The scientists are quick to caution that they’re work is preliminary, and that more research needs to be done before this type of technique will have any practical applications. However, the discovery could pave the way for new heart disease treatment. “We hope our study would be used in the future to replace a piece of tissue damaged by a heart attack, or perhaps an entire organ, in patients with heart disease,” senior researcher Lei Yang told AFP.
“One of our next goals is to see if it’s feasible to make a patch of human heart muscle,” Yang said in a press release. “We could use patches to replace a region damaged by a heart attack. That might be easier to achieve because it won’t require as many cells as a whole human-sized organ would.”