With so many people in need of heart transplants and not enough donors, scientists are trying to grow replacement hearts in the lab. First, they strip away cells from a recently deceased heart to leave a scaffold of structural proteins. Pictured is a ‘decellularized’ human heart, the framework that researchers then seed with precursor cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells – adults cell reprogrammed to an embryonic-like state that can become any type of cell. Finally, they nurture this mixture in a chamber that mimics conditions in the body, including the beating sensation. One group has already made rat hearts that pump with as much as 25 percent of normal capacity. And although the creation of fully functional whole human hearts is still a long way off, researchers could soon make transplant-ready replacement parts, such as valves, or use similar techniques to repair small areas of damage in situ.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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