Whether caused by an undetected birth defect or by a heart attack (myocardial infarction),
when a heart sustains damage, it can be difficult to repair.
2.5 billion. That’s approximately the number of times the human heart beats in 70
years. And sometimes during the course of its unrelenting contractions and relaxations,
the heart muscle can no longer bear the strain.
If heart muscle cells—cardiomyocytes—could be repaired by cells taken from one’s own
body, the patient’s recovery improves. But manufacturing heart cells requires an exacting
process tailored specifically to an individual. Laid out in a new article published
today in Advanced Functional Materials (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.201707378), a team of researchers at Michigan Technological University in collaboration with
Harvard Medical School, shows how cardiomyocytes grown in a heart-like environment
mature more quickly, have improved functionality and are less likely to be rejected
by patients’ bodies.
Pluripotent Stem Cells
Many people with heart injuries from heart attacks or birth defects could benefit
from the “self-therapeutic” process of injecting healthy cells into the damaged heart
muscle. Labs use induced pluripotent stem cells, also known as master cells, which
using biochemical cues can be “programmed” to become any type of cell, whether for
the heart muscle or otherwise. Yet current processes result in underdeveloped cells.
These lab-fabricated, fluorescently stained cardiomyocytes—heart muscle cells—exhibit
the maturation and functionality of heart cells grown within a heart.
To date, manufacturing cardiomyocytes has occurred in two-dimensional settings (essentially,
petri dishes). But the growth environment plays a large role in the ways the cells
develop. Thus, simulating the actual heart environment—with lots of pressure and specific
forces acting on the growing cells—could lead to more robust cardiomyocytes.
“Unfortunately stem cell therapeutics don’t have high success rates partly because
the cells are not mature and fully functional. The maturation and functionality are