A new report in Nature Communications claims a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has successfully grown human heart tissue capable of beating autonomously. For anyone suffering from a cardiovascular disease, this is incredible news that may one day lead to transplantable replacement hearts; the medical landscape could change forever. Imagine all the lives we could save.
According to the group's report, the grown heart is only able to survive right now in petri dish form, but the progress is promising and could lead to something much greater. The tissue itself originated from induced pluripotent stem cells, which were reprogrammed to an embryonic state before being developed into a specialized cell. In this case, the iPS cells, derived from human skin, were induced into multipotential cardiovascular progenitor (MCP) cells, which are required for the heart to function.
The researchers then took a decellularized mouse heart and repopulated it with the new MCP cells. Over the next few weeks, the human cells were able to rebuild into a functional organ that, as mentioned above, is capable of beating on its own. The territory being explored by the group is still new, but they say the heart is contracting at a rate of 40 to 50 beats per minute; it'll need to be stronger in order to distribute blood, but initial readings are positive.
Heart disease right now is the number one killer around the world, but science is taking one step closer to possibly lessening that statistic. You only get one heart, and if it gets damaged then its damaged for good. But, maybe, at some point down the road, science might be able to repair damaged hearts by using a person's own skin.