Woody Allen's 1973 sci-fi comedy The Sleeper is set in a futuristic police-state whose leaders set about resurrecting their dead dictator from his only remaining body-part – his nose. Two hundred years from now, when the plot is set, this could turn into science-fact thanks to stem cell technology, now taking its baby-steps. To date, bioengineers have succeeded in re-growing tissues from kidneys, lungs, arteries, bone, skin, and now, contracting heart muscle fibres (shown). To do this they deposited stem cells on a chip lined with a protein mimicking the natural heart environment, prompting the cells to form heart tissue. And to demonstrate the usefulness of this technique for cheap and risk-free trialling of future gene therapies, they introduced a faulty gene into the cells causing Barth syndrome – a condition that weakens heart contractions – which they 'cured' by re-introducing a healthy gene that restored the contractions to full strength.
Written by Tristan Farrow
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.