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
DEC 05, 2018
Cardiology
DEC 05, 2018
Top 5 Medical Tests to Predict Heart Disease
  A group of five simple medical tests provides doctors and patients a long-term, wide-range glimpse into a person’s risk of developing heart di...
JUN 07, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
JUN 07, 2018
Easily Identifying Pregnancies at Risk for Premature Birth
Premature birth affects almost ten percent of pregnancies and is the leading cause of infant mortality in the US....
JUN 27, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUN 27, 2018
Are High-Strength MRIs Releasing Mercury from Dental Fillings?
A super strong MRI approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be releasing dangerous amounts of mercury from tooth fillings. From Akdeniz...
JUL 03, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUL 03, 2018
Blood Test Deciphers Your Internal Rhythm
A personalized reading of your circadian rhythm could help scientists prescribe the exact time of day that drug treatments will be the most effective. A ne...
AUG 11, 2018
Microbiology
AUG 11, 2018
A Microbrewery can Help us Monitor Radiation Exposure
This wearable technology is very sensitive, and can be used by workers that are at risk of radiation exposure....
AUG 30, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
AUG 30, 2018
Genetic Changes can Help Diagnose Childhood Cancers Far Earlier
New research has revealed genetic rearrangements that happen far before bone cancer starts growing in children....
Loading Comments...