The first living artificial heart has been created by doctors in a hope to end the shortage of donor organs for transplant. In unprecedented research in animals, doctors have refurbished a dead heart and hope to end the need for immunosupression in organ transplant therapy.
Stem Cell Research Takes on a New Meaning
The new bioartificial heart was created by a team of doctors at the University of Minnesota. The team used a whole heart from a rat and harvested cells from it. Then with the resulting architecture of intact chambers, valves, and blood vessels, repopulated the structure using adult stem cells. After four days, the cells began to contract and at eight days, the heart was visibly beating. (Heart muscle cells have a highly specialized and intrinsic ability to be able to beat of their own accord at around 20 times per minute.)
Hearts created by this method would be made of a patient’s own stem cells and would be much more likely to be recognized as self by the body, eliminating the need for massive doses of anti-rejection drugs that can destroy vital organs, causing diabetes, and kidney failure.
This technology, however, is not limited to hearts. Blood vessels, kidneys, pancreases, and almost any other organ with a blood supply could be built. The source of the patient’s stem cells could come from bone marrow, muscle, or the heart, depending upon the need.
Manmade Artificial Heart Technology
Meanwhile manmade artificial heart technology research is progressing. The AbioCor II artificial heart is awaiting permission from the FDA for human trials, expected to begin sometime this year. The AbioCor II is a fully implantable total artificial heart system that is smaller in design that its predecessor and is meant to be used for five years or longer, equivalent to or exceeding the expected life span for a heart transplant.
The smaller AbioCor II design will allow it to be used by more people. The original AbioCor can only be used in men and very large women. This is due to the amount of space inside the chest cavity needed for this large artificial heart.
Currently there are approximately 50,000 persons needing a heart transplant every year and only slightly over 2,000 available human donor hearts. These advances should provide hope for more people on the waiting list.