Scientists created a tiny heart in the lab using stem cells
Stem cell research is continuously evolving and will likely become more and more effective in the near future. Researchers are continuously making efforts to grow stem cell-based organs in the lab using 3D modeling. Developing patient-specific organs to replenish degenerated organs or to screen drugs is a Holy Grail for the revolutionary tissue engineering field.
Recently, scientists at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with researchers at the Gladstone Institutes, fabricated beating cardiac tissue using stem cell technology . This newly developed model could be beneficial to study early human cardiac development, which is currently restricted to in vivo animal experiments. Furthermore, these cardiac microchambers can also be used for disease modeling during development with human induced pluripotent stem (iPSCs) derived from patients with congenital cardiac diseases. This promising finding provides a proof of concept, which can be potentially explored for growing other kinds of organs as well.
Researchers used iPSCs generated from human skin cells to make them differentiate and self-organize into micron-scale cardiac tissue, including microchambers. Two weeks later, the cells transformed into myofibroblasts, types of cell with characteristics of connective tissue and muscle. By day 20, the cells had formed heart “microchambers” that were beating. These cardiac microchambers, reminiscent of early stages of cardiac development, ranged in height from 100 to 300 mm.
They further demonstrated the potential of newly developed cardiac microchambers by performing drug toxicity screening. Presently, heart ailments are one of the most commonly reported birth defect in newborns. Therefore, they used this in vitro cardiac microchamber to mimic the early developing human heart to screen drugs likely to generate to cardiac birth defects. They treated the cells with thalidomide, a drug known to affect heart development in fetuses and later found that the microchambers didn’t develop properly. The findings are particularly clinically relevant, and these cardiac microchambers could be potentially useful for developmental drug screening in order to improve the safety of medications administered during pregnancy.
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 Ma Z et al., Self-organizing human cardiac microchambers mediated by geometric confinement. Nat Commun 2015 Jul 14;6:7413. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8413.