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Could Scientists Engineer Hearts for Organ Transplants?


In the medical world, there is a discrepancy: In the United States, approximately 3,000 people are on the waiting list for a heart transplant on a given day, but only about 2,000 donor hearts are available each year, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. That’s why scientists across the country are trying to harvest newly-dead organs to bring them back to life.

Science journal Nature reports on this process called “decellularization,” which removes all the cells from a dead organ and then puts in new matching cells for a transplant patient. This rejuvenated heart can then be transplanted into the patient with less risk of rejection, since the stem cells can match. Animal hearts can also be decellularized to use to build these bioengineered organs.

As explained in the video above, scientists at both the Texas Heart Institute in Houston and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are working on developing these organ transplant advancements via decellularization.

“[With] a building, if you want to renovate it or repair it, you go in, you knock down drywall or get rid of cabinets and stuff like that,” Massachusetts General Hospital researcher Jacques Guyette told Nature. “And basically we’re going into the matrix and doing that, by profusing solutions and detergents, we’re getting rid of all the cells.”

Today, the Massachusetts researchers are focused on developing parts for the heart, but hope to someday be able to completely reconstitute the entire organ. It’s not an easy process, considering: the heart is one of the most complex organs in the human body and serves a vital function.

While the research into effectively bio-engineering reconstituted hearts continues, artificial hearts are currently an option for patients. Already, more than 1,000 patients have SynCardia’s artificial heart, which serve as a temporary solution while waiting for a donor transplant. The device already has regulatory approvals in Europe, the United States and Canada. MIT Technology Review reported on another device being tested that combines synthetic materials with cow heart tissue. This “bioprosthetic” invention, by CARMAT, still has to be proven safe and effective for patients.

3D-printing is also opening new frontiers for engineered body parts. In May, Mashable reported about professors at the University of Michigan, who developed a 3D-printed splint that helped a baby breathe again. But this technology is certainly still developing. On Saturday, a two-year-old, who had successfully received an artificial windpipe, died, ABC News reported.

What do you think about these innovations in bioengineering and medical science? Let us know in the comments.

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