Scientists Grow Miniature Beating Hearts in a Lab

Tuesday, 14 July 2015 - 1:36PM
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Medical Tech
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 - 1:36PM
Scientists Grow Miniature Beating Hearts in a Lab
Yet another trope of science fiction has become a reality, as researchers have managed to grow human hearts in vitro. The scientists used stem cells in order to develop clusters of cardiac cells, which then became beating 3-dimensional microchambers. This study could help doctors prevent and treat fetal heart defects, and could even eliminate the need for animal testing.



For the study, published today in Nature Communications, the researchers genetically reprogrammed adult human skin tissue into pluripotent stem cells, which were then placed on a circular-patterned surface and allowed to grow. Cells in the center of the colony developed into cardiac muscle cells, while cells on the outskirts of the colony developed into fibroblasts, effectively creating tiny, lab-grown human hearts. 

3-D reconstruction of the microchamber:


Opening quote
"We believe it is the first example illustrating the process of developing a human heart chamber in vitro," Kevin Healy, co-author of the study and a bioengineer at Berkeley, said in a press statement. "The fact that we used patient-derived human pluripotent stem cells in our work represents a sea change in the field."
Closing quote


The hearts actually beat, albeit slowly. as the muscles contract just a few times a day. Here is a time lapse of a miniature heart beating over 24 hours:



The primary goal of this research is to more fully understand the process by which the human heart develops, and the ways in which various drugs impact that development. The most commonly reported birth defects are cardiovascular, and according to co-author Bruce Conklin, many of these defects are the result of drugs that adversely affect fetal development. The scientists tested their lab-grown cardiac tissues by exposing them to a drug called thalidomide, which is known to cause fetal heart defects, and just like real tiny hearts, they didn't develop properly. 

The researchers are only using cardiac tissue for now, but they claim that the same method could be used to grow all different kinds of organs. Up until now, scientists have generally used rat organs to perform this kind of testing, but this method may be both more accurate and more humane.
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