In a development that holds great promise for heart patients, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital have been able to grow functional heart tissue from stem cells created from skin cells. The journal Circulation Research has published their paper.
Using the researchers' technique, heart tissue is built with the patient's own cellular material, which reduces the need for an exact donor match. The chance of immunorejection is also thus reduced.
An entire heart cannot be built from cells, a scaffold is needed to give the cells a shape. This scaffold, called an extracellular matrix is normally built from proteins secreted by the cells.
"Generating functional cardiac tissue involves meeting several challenges," lead author Jacques Guyette said in a statement.
"These include providing a structural scaffold that is able to support cardiac function, a supply of specialised cardiac cells, and a supportive environment in which cells can repopulate the scaffold to form mature tissue capable of handling complex cardiac functions."
Instead of growing these extracellular matrices, which would be time-consuming, the team used 73 donor hearts from the New England Organ Bank, which had been determined unsuitable for transplantation.
The hearts were stripped down to the extracellular matrix with a detergent solution, which left behind left behind a neutral scaffold for the new cellular material.
"Regenerating a whole heart is most certainly a long-term goal that is several years away, so we are currently working on engineering a functional myocardial patch that could replace cardiac tissue damaged due a heart attack or heart failure," said lead author Jacques Guyette. "Among the next steps that we are pursuing are improving methods to generate even more cardiac cells-recellularizing a whole heart would take tens of billions-optimizing bioreactor-based culture techniques to improve the maturation and function of engineered cardiac tissue, and electronically integrating regenerated tissue to function within the recipient's heart."
(Read more: Functional heart muscle regenerated in decellularized human hearts)