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A New Rapid 3-D Cell-Growth Technique For Growing Heart Muscle

y (www.sitemaker.umich.edu/ahl) is part of the U-M Section of Cardiac Surgery, and draws its strength from the fact that it includes bioengineers, cell biologists and heart surgeons – a multidisciplinary group that can tackle both the technical and clinical hurdles in the field of engineering heart muscle. Its focus is to evaluate different platforms for engineering cardiovascular structures in the laboratory. Active programs include tissue-engineering models for cardiac muscle, tri-leaflet valves, cell-based cardiac pumps and vascular grafts. In addition, the laboratory has expertise in several different tissue engineering platforms: self-organization strategies, biodegradable hydrogels such as fibrin, and polymeric scaffolds.

Each approach may turn out to have its own applications, says Birla, and the ability to conduct side-by-side comparisons is important. Other researchers have focused on one approach or another, but the U-M team can use its lab to test multiple approaches at once.

'Fundamentally, we're interested in creating models of the different components of the heart one by one,' says Birla.

'It's like building a house – you need to build the separate pieces first. And once we understand how these models can be built in the lab, then we can work toward building a bioengineered heart.' He notes that while many other labs focus on growing one heart component, only U-M is working on growing all the different heart components.

Already, the U-M team has begun experiments to transplant BEHM into the hearts of rats that have suffered heart attacks, and see if the new tissue can heal the damage. This work is being conducted by Francesco Migneco, M.D., a research fellow with the Artificial Heart Laboratory. Further studies will implement 'bioreactors' that will expose the BEHM tissue to more of the nutrients and other conditions that are present in the body.

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