A team of researchers at Osaka University in Japan has successfully completed a transplant of heart muscles they developed in a lab. It is the first time in the history of medical transplantation where, instead of replacing the patient’s entire heart with a new organ, the researchers developed and placed degradable sheets of heart muscle cells on the existing heart’s damaged areas. If proven successful, the novel approach would entail total restoration of the heart without the need for entire transplants.
After extracting induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from the patient’s skin or blood, the team reprogrammed them into an embryonic state so that the cells were able to grow and multiply. Due to their adaptable nature, embryonic stem cells can grow into whatever kind of organ tissue the scientists would choose.
In a particular study, the researchers first developed the iSP cells into heart muscle and then placed them on small sheets. The receiver of the transplant was a patient suffering from ischemic cardiomyopathy, a condition that affects the heart’s ability to beat. The condition is brought about by a lack of oxygen going into the heart muscles. In serious cases, the condition can cause complete heart failure and requires a heart transplant. But the researchers in Japan expect that the muscle cells developed on the sheets will produce a protein that regenerates the blood vessels, thereby repairing the heart function.
The patient will follow intense monitoring for a year. If the procedure proves successful, the team expects to carry out the same procedure in nine more ischemic cardiomyopathic patients over the next three years.
The procedure is expected to generate encouraging results as the patient’s immune system is more likely to accept the cells than it is to tolerate a foreign organ.
According to The Japan Times, researcher Yoshiki Sawa stated at a news conference: ”I hope that (the transplant) will become a medical technology that will save as many people as possible, as I’ve seen many lives that I couldn’t save”.