Houston Docs Drawing Roadmap For Bioartificial Heart

It may sound far-fetched, but some of the world’s foremost heart experts and researchers think it might be possible someday to grow an actual bio-artificial heart. They’re in Houston this week creating a roadmap they hope will lead to the use of stem cells to make a biological heart to replace one that’s damaged or diseased.

At the first Cardiovascular Regeneration Workshop at the Texas Heart Institute, the challenge is pretty basic; come up with a plan to create what amounts to a new, living, beating heart. It’s already been done, sort of, in a rat. Researchers cleaned the old cells out of a dead heart and replaced them with cells from a baby rat. After 8 days, the heart actually beat, but with virtually no pumping force. Texas Heart Institute President Dr. James Willerson issued the bioartificial heart challenge.

“I think it will occur in the next 20 years, next 15 years and it’s a matter of being smart enough to do it. The cells are available and the cells can be made and it’s a matter of understanding our maker’s signals that allowed cells to become brains and hearts and kidneys and so on and repeating them.”

Researchers still don’t know exactly how the regenerated heart would be created, but there are some ideas, all involving those basic stem cells.

“I think creating a new heart will probably be something that’s done either using the patient’s own heart as a framework or in an in vitro, bioengineering kind of setting where one brings together the necessary cells in an environment, a culture environment presumably, where they can develop, just as they do in a mother’s womb and one would implant that heart, replacing the old, damaged one.”

Dr. Ananth Annapragada is an associate professor at the University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston. He organized the conference and says this could be the start of something big.

“In many ways, this is like an Apollo mission or a Manhattan Project. These are things, they make history. We hope that people will turn around and look at this meeting as what was essentially the kick-off for this project that ended-up in the creation of a bioartificial heart.”

A bioartificial heart would solve quite a few problems. It would help alleviate the shortage of donor organs. It would also virtually eliminate problems with organ rejection since the patient’s own cells would be used. Pioneering heart surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley is

“It seems almost like science fiction. It may not ever come to pass, but there seems to be some possibility that such a concept can be fulfilled when we bring together the various disciplines involved.”

Researchers hope to use what they learn this week to come up with a more detailed plan on how to begin the work to create a human bioartificial heart.