How to build a heart

With thousands of people in need of heart transplants, researchers are trying to grow new organs.

Doris Taylor doesn't take it as an insult when people call her Dr Frankenstein. “It was actually one of the bigger compliments I've gotten,? she says — an affirmation that her research is pushing the boundaries of the possible. Given the nature of her work as director of regenerative medicine research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Taylor has to admit that the comparison is apt. She regularly harvests organs such as hearts and lungs from the newly dead, re-engineers them starting from the cells and attempts to bring them back to life in the hope that they might beat or breathe again in the living.

Taylor is in the vanguard of researchers looking to engineer entire new organs, to enable transplants without the risk of rejection by the recipient's immune system. The strategy is simple enough in principle.

In practice, however, the process is beset with tremendous challenges.

Taylor, who led some of the first successful experiments to build rat hearts1, is optimistic about this ultimate challenge in tissue engineering. “I think it's eminently doable,? she says, quickly adding, “I don't think it's simple.? Some colleagues are less optimistic. Paolo Macchiarini, a thoracic surgeon and scientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who has transplanted bioengineered tracheas into several patients, says that although tissue engineering could become routine for replacing tubular structures such as windpipes, arteries and oesophagi, he is “not confident that this will happen with more complex organs?.

Taylor suspects that partial approaches could aid patients with severe heart defects such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which half the heart is severely underdeveloped. Restoring the other half, “essentially forces you to build the majority of the things you need?, she says.

And these efforts could hold lessons for the development of cell therapies delivered to the heart. Researchers are learning, for example, how heart cells develop and function in three dimensions. In the future, partial scaffolds, either synthetic or from cadavers, could allow new cells to populate damaged areas of hearts and repair them like patches.

The jars of ghostly floating organs might seem like a gruesome echo of the Frankenstein story, but Taylor says her work is a labour of love.    Read Full Article By Brandan Maher


Tissue Engineering: How to Build a Heart
Nature | News Feature
Brendan Maher
03 July 2013
Online Story


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