Scientists have already made basic heart muscle from stem cells, but the Hong Kong-led team wants to refine it so it can replace any part damaged in heart attacks, and to recreate the natural pacemaker, where the heartbeat originates.
“When you get a heart attack, there is a small time window for a cure when the damage is still small. You can cure with a patch, a small tissue, so you won’t progress to late stage heart failure,” said team leader Ronald Li, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Consortium.
“We have the muscle strip now, but we want it to mimic what we see in the native heart better, (and) that requires engineering,” said Li in an interview.
An organ or section of tissue grown from a person’s stem cells can, in general, be surgically implanted only in that same person.
“There are many different types of heart cells. If cells that are responsible for electricity aren’t going right, you get arrhythmias or heart rhythm disturbances. There are heart muscle cells that do mechanical heart pumping that work all the time.”
The team will use approved human embryonic stem cell lines to build these human heart muscle strips, as well as the native pacemaker for people with arrhythmia, or irregular heart beat.