What Lab-Grown Human Hearts Could Mean For The Donor Crisis

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have taken a big first step toward growing human hearts in a lab, which could possibly put an end to the national organ donation crisis.

The scientists stripped donor hearts of any cells that might cause recipients to reject them and then used stem cells to rebuild the tissue.

A study detailing the process sheds light on several key elements of bioengineering human heart muscle, said Dr. Harald C. Ott. He is an assistant professor in surgery at the hospital and a senior author of the study, which was published in the journal Circulation Research in the fall.

“While limited in force, these were the first (tiny) beats of a newly formed, human stem cell derived heart,” Ott wrote last week in an email to The Huffington Post.

Scientists still have a ways to go until they can bioengineer whole functional hearts for patients, he added. Ideally, however, they one day might be able to grow an entire organ using the donee’s own cells and tissue.

“As with many developments, time is a factor determined by funding, man and brain power,” Ott said. “Our study shows that it is in theory possible, but much work remains to be done. As a first step, I do believe that parts of human hearts will become available sooner than whole heart grafts, and we are actively pursuing this option.”

Having that option would be life-saving, as there are 4,153 people across the U.S. who need a heart transplant — and last year, about 402 people died while on the waiting list for one, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Sometime in the future we will be able to grow hearts, or at least heart tissue to offset the bottleneck.”
Biologist Dr. Young-sup Yoon

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