Lead researcher Doris Taylor, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair, has revealed that her team made the bioartifical heart by taking dead rat and pig hearts, and reseeding them with a mixture of live cells. “The idea would be to develop transplantable blood vessels or whole organs that are made from your own cells," Nature magazine quoted Taylor as saying. This achievement attains significance as it may one day help prevent scores of patients who die annually waiting for a donor heart.
Taylor says that creating a three-dimensional scaffold that mimics the complex cardiac architecture and intricacies has always been a mystery, even though several scientists have made advances in generating heart tissue in the lab.
She credits her success to a process called whole organ decellularization — a process of removing all of the cells from an organ and leaving only the framework between the cells intact.
After removing cells from both rat and pig hearts, the researchers injected them with a mixture of progenitor cells that came from neonatal or newborn rat hearts, and placed the structure in a sterile setting in the lab to grow.
Eight days after seeding the decellularized heart scaffolds with the heart cells, the hearts started pumping.
“Take a section of this 'new heart" and slice it, and cells are back in there. The cells have many of the markers we associate with the heart and seem to know how to behave like heart tissue," Taylor said.
Given that such bioartifical hearts can be filled with a heart patient"s own cells, the researchers believe that they are less likely to be rejected by the body.
“We used immature heart cells in this version, as a proof of concept. We pretty much figured heart cells in a heart matrix had to work. Going forward, our goal is to use a patient"s stem cells to build a new heart," Taylor said.
She revealed that the main objective of her research was to devise an effective way to repair heart, but decellularization gave them the hope that engineering various other organs might be possible.
“It opens a door to this notion that you can make any organ: kidney, liver, lung, pancreas – you name it and we hope we can make it," she said.