DURHAM, N.C. -- By mimicking the way embryonic stem cells develop into heart muscle in a lab, Duke University bioengineers believe they have taken an important first step toward growing a living "heart patch" to repair heart tissue damaged by disease.
In a series of experiments using mouse embryonic stem cells, the bioengineers used a novel mold of their own design to fashion a three-dimensional "patch" made up of heart muscle cells, known as cardiomyocytes. The new tissue exhibited the two most important attributes of heart muscle cells - the ability to contract and to conduct electrical impulses. The mold looks much like a piece of Chex cereal in which researchers varied the shape and length of the pores to control the direction and orientation of the growing cells.
The researchers grew the cells in an environment much like that found in natural tissues. They encapsulated the cells within a gel composed of the blood-clotting protein fibrin, which provided mechanical support to the cells, allowing them to form a three-dimensional structure. They also found that the cardiomyocytes flourished only in the presence of a class of "helper" cells known as cardiac fibroblasts, which comprise as much as 60 percent of all cells present in a human heart.
"If you tried to grow cardiomyocytes alone, they develop into an unorganized ball of cells," said Brian Liau, graduate student in biomedical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. Liau, who works in the laboratory of assistant professor Nenad Bursac, presented the results of his latest experiments during the annual scientific sessions of the Biomedical Engineering Society in Pittsburgh.
"We found that adding cardiac fibroblasts to the growing cardiomyocytes created a nourishing environment that stimulated the cells to grow as if they were in a developing heart," Liau said. "When we tested the patch, we found that because the cells aligned themselves in the same direction,
|Contact: Richard Merritt|