How to Build a Heart? The Future of Stem Cell Research

How to Build a Heart? The Future of Stem Cell Research

Mackenzie Thompson

by Mackenzie Thompson

Life Saver, AMC

posted on Aug 11, 2014, at 9:49 pm


THE MODERN FRANKENSTEIN, Doris Taylor, has defined a new era of organ transplant technology with her most recent operations and discoveries. Take away the green skin, straggly hair and bolted neck, and you essentially have Taylor’s phenomenon. Tissue engineering has evolved rapidly, and scientists are now able to engineer completely new vital organs – such as the heart. Thousands of people are in need to heart transplants. Can scientists like Taylor keep them alive and well?

How to build a heart? It’s certainly not unpretentious. The Texas Heart Institute, simplifies the anatomy of the heart into 3 major components: The Heart Valves, The Conduction System and The Circulatory System. The heart valves include:

• The tricuspid valve, which is responsible for regulating blood flow between the right atrium and right ventricle

• The pulmonary valve that controls blood flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary arteries to carry blood into your lungs to pick up oxygen

• The mitral valve, which lets the oxygenated blood from your lungs pass from the left atrium into the left ventricle

• Finally, the aortic valve, which opens the way for oxygen-rick blood to pass from the left ventricle into the aorta, which is dispersed among the rest of your body

The conduction system is a complex sequence consisting of the sinoatrial node, the inherent pacemaker of the heart. The circulatory system is responsible for getting the newly pumped blood into the organs, tissues and cells of the human body.

In order to understand how to build a heart, you must understand how the functionality of the stem cells,. An embryo contains about eight stem cells, which are all totipotent, meaning they can develop into all cell types. After three to five days, the embryo developed in a bundle of calls called a blastocyst, which contains about 100 cells total and the stem cells. After this, the cells are pluripotent and can develop into almost any cell type.

“There are some days that I go, ‘Oh my god, what have I gotten into?’ On the other hand, all it takes is a kid calling you, saying ‘Can you help my mother?’ and it makes it all worthwhile.”

Taylor begins her tissue engineering process, with the scaffold, which takes the beating embryonic stem cells from the petri dish, into an organized 3D structure. The scaffold heart doesn’t even have to be a human heart humans can function from a pig’s! After the stem cells have been organized, researchers have to determine the age and amount of cells to use (most use a mixture of two or more cell types). After the cells colonize the scaffold, selected immature cells look for natural synchronization, which is why researchers put the brand new “heart” into a bioreactor that mimics the sensation of beating. The last obstacle researchers face: the beat. Putting the heart into a living animal and maintaining its beat is the hardest hurdle to overcome.

So now you know how to build a heart. Although making vital human organs cannot be done by anyone who is not a brilliantly devoted researcher, such as Taylor.

About Mackenzie

Mackenzie is a lover of world travel, photography, design, style and Chinese cooking. She is passionate about working towards a purpose, recently graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Media and Marketing, and is currently residing in Manhattan.

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