JAN 23, 2016 07:39 AM PST

Lab-Grown Heart Cells Thump With a Jolt

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Electrically "trained" human cardiomyocytes

For the first time, scientists have been successful at engineering cardiac muscle cells from stem cells that actually beat just like regular heart cells. This research has deep implications for regenerative medicine and basic biological research.
 
The heart contains 3 billion cardiac muscle cells, also known as cardiomyocytes, which perform extremely specialized functions. In response to electrical signals, these cells pulse and contract synchronously to pump blood throughout our bodies. It is this ability to beat and carry rhythm that has been the biggest challenge for lab-engineered heart muscle cells to imitate.
 
 
Led by Dr. Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University, the research team hypothesized that the lab-grown cardiomyocytes can be “trained” to beat regularly with electrical stimulation. Their research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications. 
 
They began with human embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells that were coaxed into heart muscle cells and grown as three-dimensional structures. Then, for a period of a week, they applied electrical signals that mimicked those of a healthy heart.
 
With the right electrical stimulation, the lab-grown cardiac cells began to adapt and beat with the regularity of a normal heart. Impressively, the cells maintained this autonomous beating rate for up 2 weeks. The electrical stimulation also increased the connections between the cells, so that the autonomous beating was transferred to surrounding cardiomyocytes.
 
“We’ve made an exciting discovery,” says Vunjak-Novakovic. “We applied electrical stimulation to mature these cells, regulate their contractile function, and improve their ability to connect with each other. In fact, we trained the cell to adopt the beating pattern of the heart, improved the organization of important cardiac proteins, and helped the cells to become more adult-like.”
 
The team plans to go backwards from this discovery and find out how the immature heart begins its beating function. They also are eager to test how well the “conditioned” heart cells can be integrated and synchronize with a natural heart muscle.
 
Making heart cells that beat in a dish is a huge biomedical engineering triumph. This discovery has “applications for the study of cardiomyocyte biology, drug testing, and stem cell therapy [and] could lead to the reduction of arrhythmia during cell-based heart regeneration,” says Vunjak-Novakovic.

Additional source: Columbia Engineering press release
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 21, 2019
Technology
OCT 21, 2019
3D-Printed Pipette Technology Advances Laboratory Testing
The need to design a simple and inexpensive laboratory method for medical tests has encouraged new technology developed by the University of Connecticut re...
OCT 21, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
OCT 21, 2019
Possible Non-Hormonal Treatment For Endometriosis On Horizon
With over 200,000 cases reported annually, endometriosis is a big concern in women’s health. Scientists don’t yet know what causes the painful ...
OCT 21, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
OCT 21, 2019
Muscular Dystrophy Drug by Sarepta Therapeutics: Approval or Rejection by Drug Regulating Authorities?
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD is a rare, genetic disorder that hampers muscle movement and is the most common pediatric muscular dystrophy. I...
OCT 21, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
OCT 21, 2019
Apple Watch New Research App: A Boon to Women's Health
The Apple company, in 2018, enrolled more than 400,000 people in its Apple Heart Study conducted in partnership with Stanford University researchers....
OCT 21, 2019
Neuroscience
OCT 21, 2019
Nanolaser designed to function in brain tissue
Scientists have developed a nanolaser (miniaturized laser) that can function inside living tissues. According to researchers, the laser is about 1/1,000th the thickness of a single human hair...
OCT 21, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 21, 2019
A 'Molecular Clock' for Determining a Child's Age
This tool can aid in the diagnosis of developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder....
Loading Comments...