Heart disease claims a life every 34 seconds in the United States. The problem is, once a heart is damaged, it cannot repair itself like some other parts of the body. But what if it could regenerate? It’s a possibility that could make heart transplants obsolete. It’s a possibility that may very well be within reach. A new heart beats in Morris’s chest. At one point during his four month wait for a transplant, he was hours away from total organ failure and sure death.
Morris, Heart Transplant Recipient: “When your condition is so delicate that you could leave here at any moment — it is very stressful.”
But what if heart patients didn’t have to wait for donor hearts? What if scar tissue that impedes blood flow could regenerate into healthy beating heart cells? That’s what researchers are close to finding out. They’ve isolated healthy heart cells from baby rats. They’ve bolstered them genetically and then they’re ready for transplant.
Frank Smart, M.D.,: “Then we go in and inject these cells in the area of scar tissue where the heart attack has occurred in an effort to get the cells to regenerate the dead piece of heart so it’ll function again.”
The healthy cells have so far been successfully transplanted into pigs- which have hearts very similar to humans. In the meantime, figuring out why our heart cells stop dividing in the first place is an ongoing part of the research.
William Claycomb, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, LSU School of Medicine: “The major drawback right now would be the understanding of why these heart cells stop dividing and then devising a way to make them divide again in a controlled way, which we are doing with this microinjection.”
Injecting the isolated cells with custom made genes does bolster them to divide in petrie dishes. Getting the same results in humans is still at least a couple of years away. Only one in twenty patients who need a heart transplant end up getting one, heart donors are that scarce. Having a supply of ready made heart cells on the shelf will greatly reduce the cost and the need for heart transplantation. Performing these procedures on humans is still a couple of years off.
Source: Ivanhoe @ 1999