A hole in the heart is usually a defect at birth but can occasionally be caused by a chest injury to an adult. In severe cases, open-heart surgery may be needed to repair the hole, a procedure shown here in a 22-year-old pedestrian hit by a car. The damaged heart muscle is being repaired by lowering into place a bovine patch, which is stitched into position. Bovine patches are made from cow’s pericardium [the sac enclosing the heart], which is first processed to remove cow cells so that human cells can colonise the patch once it’s in place. Stem cell technology may one day make it possible to grow heart patches from the patient’s own tissue. A possible intermediate step, currently being researched, is to seed a bovine patch with stem cells from the patient, encouraging cell colonisation and lowering the risk of complications.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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