Medical Research: Healing A Broken Heart

A Breakthrough in Stem Cell Research Paves the Way For Revolutionary New Treatments for Cardiac Patients

Joshua Zakary | May 2007

A team of scientists led by renowned heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub has been successful in creating a heart valve through the growth of stem cells.

The recent breakthrough, could pave the way to make-to-order organs, impervious to rejection from the body.

The team of scientists, based at Imperial College, London, is made up of physicists, pharmacologists, clinicians, and cellular scientists. The creation of the valve is a culmination of ten years in development.

Stem cells have the potential to transform themselves into many different type of cells. Because of their adaptability, it is conceivable that scientists will be able to grow complex organs from stem cells.

According to a senior team member Dr. Adrian Chester, "We are attempting to grow a (heart) valve that will be functional in adults and children.

"It will be able to adapt to its new environment, and then just sit there and function like a normal valve."

The process begins with the extraction of stem cell from the transplant patient’s bone marrow. Cells are then cultivated and grown into a heart valve.

Since the heart valve is grown from the patient’s own cells, there is less of a chance the body will reject the valve.

If the future ambitions of the team to grow complex organs are successful, it would mean transplant patients would not have to live through the arduous, and sometimes life threatening process of finding a donor with a cellular match.

It could also conceivably decrease the excessive costs associated with current heart transplants.

The practice of growing organs and tissue parts from stem cells is not unknown in the medical community. Simpler items such as tendons, bladders, and cartilage have been successfully grown in the past.

The growth of the heart valve will be the first time part of a complex organ will be grown using stem cells. The current practice to replace a diseased heart valve is to use a plastic valve as a replacement.

According to Catharine Paddock, of Medical news today, there are several inherent flaws with the current practice.

The thousands of UK recipients of the valve have to continue taking drugs for the rest of their lives so the body won’t reject the artificial valve.

According to the BBC, in the United Kingdom alone, there have been more than 200,000 fatalities associated with heart disease and strokes.

When asked about the future of complex stem cell grown organs, Dr. Yacoub told the Guardian (UK) newspaper, "it is an ambitious project but not impossible. If you want me to guess, I’d say 10 years."

According to Medical News Today, Dr. Yacoub is planning on scheduling animal trials later this year.

If these trials are successful, it is conceivable to see the first human stem cell heart valve transplant within three years.

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