Growing Heart In a Jar

Last Revised on January 23, 2008

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Growing an organ in a jar sounds kind a mischievous. But wait until you hear what scientist are really doing in their lab. They are hoping one day to find a human application, scientists grow an organ of a rat in the lab – heart.

Scientist have so far managed to grow a rat heart in the lab and start it beating. Scientists have worked for years for ways to grow body parts and organs. Many efforts have been focusing on heart valves as an alternative to the plastic or animal valves that easily wears out over a time period after being implanted inside our body.

It is estimated that nearly 5 million people live with heart failure and about 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. Approximately 50,000 die annually while waiting for a heart donor.

Lab scientists have taken the hearts from eight newborn rats and removed all the cells in there. Left behind was a gelatin-like matrix shaped like a heart and containing conduits where the blood vessels had been. Scientists then injected cells back into this scaffold — muscle cells and endothelial cells, which line blood vessels.The muscle cells covered the matrix walls and lined up together, while the endothelial cells found their way inside to coat the blood vessels, she said. Then the hearts were stimulated electrically.

After two days, they noticed tiny, microscopic contractions, and by seven to eight days there were contractions large enough to see even with a naked eye. The tiny hearts could pump liquid at about one-fourth the rate of a normal fetal rat’s heart.

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