While we’ve made some truly breathtaking progress in the field of medicine, we’re still left behind in some areas. Depending on funding, the complexity of the project, as well as the other parties involved, some medical procedures are still at an incipient level, while others look like they’re from another time.
Fully functioning limbs (a team is currently working on getting them to actually feel) weren’t that hard to create once the 3-D printing technology advanced enough, and some sensational progress is being made in the field of creating artificial organs. But as expected, the more complex the organ, the harder it is to create in a lab.
In a worldwide first, a team of American scientists created a lab-grown functional heart muscle. It took a lot of time and resources, and it’s going to take years before the process is anywhere near perfected, but it’s still a truly impressive and important breakthrough.
The procedure used a technique developed in 2008 by Dr. Harald Ott from the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Regenerative Medicine and Department of Surgery. The technique involves stripping living cells out of donor organ using a sort of detergent solution.
According to the paper’s lead author, Jacques Guyette, who is a colleague of Dr. Ott’s,
Regenerating a whole heart is most certainly a long-term goal that is several years away.
Still, the procedure was impressive nonetheless. For the cells to be able to grow as a heart, they need an extracellular matrix made from the proteins secreted by the cells. It’s basically a scaffold used to give the cells the shape they need to take.
But since it takes a very long while to grow this scaffold naturally, the team used 73 tragically unfit for transplant donor hearts deemed so by the New England Organ Bank. The researchers stripped the cells from the hearts and by seeding the remaining neutral extracellular matrix they grew new heart tissue.
For the seeding technique, the team used a new procedure through which mRNA (messenger RNA) was used to revert skin cells back to their stem cell stage. The pluripotent cells resulting from the procedure are then made to grow into cardiac muscles.
For as long as four months, the cardiac muscle cells were seeded into the extracellular matrix. The developing heart tissue was during this time exposed to all sorts of conditions identical to those surrounding a living heart.
According to the study’s co-author, Dr. Ott,
Generating personalized functional myocardium from patient-derived cells is an important step towards novel device-engineering strategies.
Image source: SOS Organs