Every time I log onto The TED website I find something that blows my mind, it never ceases to amaze me what kind of stuff other scientists are doing out there. This was one of the articles that really shows promise in my opinion. (Click the title to be directed to the article)
What these scientists did essentially was take a porcine heart and wash out all of the cells, leaving behind only the protein matrix behind, which is essentially a scaffold that cells would attach to and hold onto one another. The idea is that using this scaffold, and human cardiac stem cells, they can manage to make a functional human heart.
Organs are in constant need, there is a great number of people needing a transplant but only a few available donors. As if things were not hard enough though, a major issue in organ transplantation is getting the body (the immune system) of the recipient to accept the organ of the donor. Successful recipients of organs are unfortunately kept on immunosuppressive medication for many years and even then the organ fails after 5-10years.
The approach taken by these scientists, if successful will solve two major issues. The first is the availability of organs, the second and most important is the issue with organ rejection. If these scientists harvest stem cells from the patients themselves, the cells repopulating the heart scaffold will be considered as “self” so when transplanted into the recipient will not cause and adverse reaction of the immune system.
This scenario has many benefits but we are still pretty far from it as of yet. Firstly the field of cardiac stem cells is still in its infancy, huge breakthroughs have been made but none to the extent of generating a whole, functioning, human heart. Secondly, there is an issue of using other species, yes a porcine heart is very similar to ours but there are always issues of cross contamination with viruses, so stringent aseptic techniques have to be put into place. Last but not least is the religion factor, some cultures regard it as unclean to even eat pork, let alone have a porcine heart beating in their chest. These are but a few issues that come to mind, that being said though I believe that everything is well on track, and I’m eagerly waiting to see more of the work this group might publish in the near future.