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Researchers Make 'Ghost Heart' for Transplants -- How Does It Work?

Feb 15, 2017 09:24 PM EST
Scientists Have Made A "Ghost" Heart - How Does It Work?
A team of scientists have created what seems to be a "ghost heart," or a heart devoid of any cells. They are hoping to use this to usher a new era of "ghost" organs, or organs scrubbed clean of the host's cells and reactivated for transplants.
(Photo : Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A team of scientists has a new solution to the growing problem of heart transplants. Instead of finding a donor, why not use a blank heart? New research from the Texas Heart Institute has developed a "ghost heart" devoid of cells.

If proven effective, this means that we can now make human hearts from scratch. According to Houstonia Magazine, this heart does not have any cells. Its white exterior is because of its components, namely collagen, fibronectin and laminin, which allow it to function when injected with stem cells.

The ghost heart is the brainchild of Doris Taylor and her 25-man team. They frequently "decellularize" seven or eight hearts from rats and inject them with stem cells. The team figured out that muscular heart cells cannot divide and, therefore, cannot regenerate without assistance.

As elaborated in a Nature article, the discovery means that the researchers will be able to create hearts -- and possibly other organs -- with cells from the host body. This lessens the chances of rejection of the host body, at least in theory. Taylor and her team made the ghost heart inside machines called bioreactors, which replicate the warm environment of the body.

If successful, Taylor estimates that they may even just need a decade to be able to make a fully functioning heart that can be transplanted into adults. Taking this a step further, she said that this technology can even usher a new era of "ghost" organs, or organs devoid of host cells that are "reactivated" with their new host's cells for acclimation.

This is good development due to the fact that Taylor has been tackling this study for the past few years. She believes that aging is simply a "failure of stem cells." She said her team is able to heal damaged rat hearts with tissues from their own stem cells. Which means, if expanded further, could potentially make "stem cell banks" to heal injuries in humans.

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