A ghost heart: Is it the miracle of modern medicine?

Here’s a great gift idea for Valentine’s Day- Have a close look at this ghost heart. This heart can serve as a scaffold on which we can grow a working heart from human stem cells!

Researchers at the Texas Heart Institute had created it two years back, but it still remains a fascinating topic in the science world. It was done by stripping all the living cells from a pig heart with a soap solution, which bursts the cells and leaves only the protein structure behind. These scientists had successfully implanted tissue-engineered hearts into rats and pigs in the hope to create personalized human hearts and help relieve the shortage of donor organs.

The beginning of regenerative medicine started with the development of organ transplantation. The earliest transplants of human parts started with skin grafting in ancient Roman history. However, modern transplantation of more vital organs has only been successful since the 1960s. Due to the extremely limited availability of human organs, science has focused on artificial devices. The artificial heart was first created by doctors Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley, which opened the door to future research possibilities.

Fundamentally, the heart is the engine of the human body. This engine consists of blood vessels, muscles, and arteries. Over the last ten years, Dr. Taylor has worked on methods of decellularization of the heart, and in 2008, she perfected that method. She utilized the common detergent chemicals, the vessels, and cellular structures within the heart wash away. By using animal heart organs in her research, Dr. Taylor developed the method leaving behind a fresh new organ.

The method can also be applied in many other organs such as the kidney, liver, and lungs too. She injected donor blood and bone marrow into the existing shell. For reasons unknown by scientists, the cells used to re-seed the heart took hold and knew exactly how to divide. Placing the organ in a bioreactor with artificially pumped oxygen and blood, the heart slowly started showing signs of life. After three days, the new organ gave out electrical impulses and eventually started to beat on its own. This was the first step in creating a perfectly matched organ for transplantation using donated cells of the person receiving the transplant.

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One of the risks of organ transplantation is matching the biological elements between a host and donor to minimize the risk of organ rejection. Many transplantations fail due to body rejection (graft rejection ) of the new organ. Anyone receiving new organs should follow a strict regime of anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives.

But anti-rejection drugs are somewhat toxic for the body, especially the liver and kidney, which leaves the transplant recipients with the risk of new organ failures. The ghost heart is an organ that would not be rejected. The body would recognize the new organ as its own with the recipient’s own blood, cells, and vessels.

However, the ghost heart yet to be the miracle of modern medicine has cured the need for donors. Scientists still need to develop a method to recreate the arteries and vessels within the organ, But medical possibilities are just that much closer to a cure now.

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