First step towards biological regeneration of a heart
Artificial hearts of the future could be a thing of the past if current research on biological heart regeneration is successful. Francisco Fernández-Avilés, the head of Cardiology for the Gregorio Marañon hospital in Madrid, says that the new technique is based on using a biological ‘scaffold’ based on a heart which cannot be used for transplanting.
The first step consists of treating the organ with a type of enzyme detergent which strips away the cells of the donor heart leaving the matrix of the heart consisting of connective tissue. This is then connected to stem cells in order for the heart to regenerate. This is a very complicated procedure but there are precedents in this area of research. However, the next most important stage is for the regenerated heart to start beating.
The research is a joint project financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation under the name of ‘SABIO’ (Scaffolds and Bioartificial Organs for Transplantation) involving the Gregorio Marañón hospital, the University of Minnesota and the National Organization for Transplants.
In the futures the stem cells used will be selected from the person who is going to receive the transplant in order to avoid rejections. However this stage of the process is ‘years away’ according to Fernández-Avilés.
The idea that a series of stem cells start beating on their own is not new. This is what happens to embryos in their natural environment when a mass of cardiac cells start dilating and contracting spontaneously a long time before a heart with its cavities valves has the capacity to pump blood.
According to researchers even in the case that it is not possible to regenerate a complete heart it might be possible to regenerate some of its structures (valves, muscles and blood vessels) for use in auto transplanting.
At the moment the first step is underway, a heart was received on Sunday and tomorrow its structure will be free of cells leaving the matrix of the heart which will be ready to be connected to stem cells for regeneration.