Move over, Doctor Frankenstein. Today’s scientists can now bring back to life a dead heart – minus the nasty stitches and the monstrous-like character you made.
Yes, it’s true. In a discovery that could rock the foundations of medicine and religion worldwide, US scientists have announced that they have found a way to make a dead heart pump blood and beat again. In essence, Man has virtually conquered death!
In an Agence France Presse (AFP) story today, Jan. 14, reporter Marlowe Hood said “US scientists have coaxed recycled hearts taken from animal cadavers into beating in the laboratory after reseeding them with live cells.”
“If extended to humans, the procedure could provide an almost limitless supply of hearts, and possibly other organs, to millions of terminally ill people waiting helplessly for a new lease on life,” the AFP report said.
While man has tinkered with the human heart many times before to prolong life, this is the first time that scientists have succeeded in bringing life back to an already dead heart.
No, the latest experiment was not done on a human heart but rather on the heart of a laboratory mouse.
There were also reports that the same experiment has been done on a pig – whose heart closely resembles ours in size and complexity.
The scientists call the heart-reviving procedure “decellularisation.”
“The idea would be to develop transplantable blood vessels or whole organs that are made from your own cells,” said lead researcher Doris Taylor, director of the Center or Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota.
In the experiment, the scientists stripped away the heart of the experimental rat using powerful detergents, leaving only a bleached-white matter composed of proteins secreted by the cells.
The “skeletal heart” was then injected with a mixture of cells taken from newborn rat hearts and placed in a sterile lab setting.
After only four days, contractions started, and on the eighth day, the hearts were pumping, according to the study, published in the British journal Nature Medicine.
Imagine, just eight days, and life was reborn!
Naturally, the scientists were stunned. “When we saw the first contractions, we were speechless,” said Harald Ott, a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“We certainly were surprised that it worked so well and so quickly,” Taylor told AFP. “There are so many places this could have gone wrong.”
In humans the objective would be to inject stemcells drawn directly from the recipient of the donated organ, thus eliminating the danger that the new heart would be rejected by the immune system.
Recent breakthroughs in stemcell research from non-embryo sources mean that new tissues should be easy to generate, according to the scientists.
They are now working on making revived hearts more efficient, and have even transplanted some of these hearts into the abdomens of rats and connected them to the animals’ aortas, a standard way of testing whether a donor organ can keep an animal alive.
And the wonder of it all is that this is just the first step in conquering new heights in medicine, in virtually reshaping the world we live in.
Decellularisation of the heart could lead to engineering other body organs, according to the study.
“It opens a door to this notion that you can make any organ: kidney, liver, lung, pancreas — you name it and we hope we can make it,” Taylor said.
(Photo caption: The heart of a dead rat that has been washed of its original cells, then injected with heart cells from baby rats and brought back to life in the laboratory is seen in this undated file photo. Reuters)