Scientists Grow Full-Size Heart in Lab from Stem Cells

In these posts, I often talk about ancient wisdom and traditional systems of healing like Ayurveda. However, I get equally excited about the latest discoveries in medical research.

Recently, scientists were able to grow a full-size human heart in the laboratory from stem cells.  This could be a huge breakthrough in eventually growing transplantable hearts and other organs.

Every year, thousands of very ill people who are waiting for heart transplants are not able to receive them.  Even for those who do get a transplant, there is a high risk that the body will reject the new heart and the patient has to be on high doses of immune suppressing drugs. Other organs like kidneys and livers are in short supply as well, with long waiting lists.

If a person could have a heart grown from their own cells that would be ideal.  Last week, scientists from Harvard Medical School published this study talking about how they used adult skin cells to regenerate an entire human heart.

The key problem with growing organs in the laboratory is that each organ has a unique architecture. The challenge is creating an artificial scaffolding on which cells can grow and develop with the proper structure.

The scientists created a structural matrix from human hearts.  They then took adult skin cells and turned them into stem cells,  the type of cells that can become any kind of cell in the human body.  They induced these stem cells to become cardiac cells.

These stem cells were put in the heart matrix and after 2 weeks developed into a well-structured organ that resembled a human heart – they gave the heart a shock of electricity and it started beating (just like we do in CPR sometimes!)

Stem cells harvested from human embryos are controversial, but in this case adult skin cells were used to create the stem cells.  While growing an entire human heart is still some time away, this study marks exciting progress towards this goal. For more details view the original press release.

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