University of Washington partners with Advanced Tissue Sciences and others in $10 million grant to 'grow' human heart tissue

Bioengineering researchers at the University of Washington will lead a multi-million-dollar effort to grow functional human heart tissue, an undertaking that could lead to tissue-engineered replacement hearts and set in place the technology to grow other major organs in the laboratory.

The project, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health for $10 million over five years, will initially focus on culturing thick "patches" of cardiac muscle that could be grafted onto damaged hearts to improve their efficiency.

The next step will be engineering a "ventricular tube," a cylinder of rolled cardiac muscle with valves that could assist a weakened heart with pumping. Then a full ventricle will be attempted. Eventually, researchers hope their work will enable scientists to grow a fully functional human heart.

In growing such devices, and eventually an entire heart, researchers will begin with a "scaffolding," or porous structure upon which cardiac cells can gain a foothold. The scaffolding is seeded with cells then placed in a bioreactor, which maintains a steady temperature conducive to development and provides cells with the nutrients they need to grow and reproduce. Advanced Tissue Sciences' patented technology will play a key role in the partnership's efforts.

Initially, researchers will be working with skeletal muscle cells, or myocytes, as well as with cardiac cells. Stem cells, or cells that have the ability to develop into specialized cells such as cardiac cells, provide another important key. The use of stem cells on a scaffold is largely unexplored and will be a major thrust of the project. Such cells could give scientists a virtually never-ending supply of cardiac cells for tissue engineering. And they may even hold clues to solving the problem of rejection by using the patient's own cells to grow new organs.

The effort represents a public-private collaboration led by the University of Washington. Partners, who will s

Contact: Rob Harrill
University of Washington

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