Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Grow Your Own Heart? Adult Stem Cell Researcher Holds High Hopes.

Back in January of 2008, Dr. Doris Taylor, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Cardiac Repair, amazed the world of medicine with the news that she and her University of Minnesota team had created a beating heart in a laboratory. Though the heart was for a rat, the scientific implications for eventual human treatments were momentous. Taylor's work was called "stunning" by some scientists while others noted it was “a landmark achievement.”

The experiment had involved removing all cells from a dead rat heart, leaving the valves and outer structure as scaffolding for new heart cells injected from newborn rats. Within two weeks, the cells formed a new beating heart that conducted electrical impulses and pumped a small amount of blood.

Taylor said she followed a guiding principle of her laboratory: “give nature the tools, and get out of the way...We just took nature’s own building blocks to build a new organ.”

Though human applications of the procedure were deemed to be at least 10 years away, Taylor's work was yet another amazing proof that the best hope for scientific breakthroughs involving stem cells were those using adult stem cells.

Well, Dr. Taylor's work has continued to utilize "nature's own building blocks" and another breakthrough has occurred.

Though the mainstream press has yet to cover the story, the Daily Mail (U.K.) is reporting that Dr. Taylor's latest experiments have used adult stem cells to "grow" human hearts. She and her team followed the same basic procedure they used in the rat experiments. They removed the muscle cells from a donor heart but left the structure intact. Then they injected stem cells which multiplied and grew around the structure, eventually turning into healthy heart cells.

Says Taylor, "The hearts are growing, and we hope they will show signs of beating within the next weeks.There are many hurdles to overcome to generate a fully functioning heart, but my prediction is that it may one day be possible to grow entire organs for transplant.’

Patients given normal heart transplants must take drugs to suppress their immune systems for the rest of their lives. If new hearts could be made using a patient’s own stem cells, it is less likely they would be rejected. The lab-grown organs have been created using these types of cells – the body’s immature ‘master cells’ which have the ability to turn into different types of tissue. The experiment follows a string of successes for researchers trying to create spare body parts for transplants.

The results of these latest studies were reported at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference in New Orleans.

By the way, Barb Malek has an excellent column on this subject in her blog, Erase the Need. You'll find it over here.