Mini lab grown human hearts could hold cure for heart disease
The hearts are being used to test treatments for heart hypertrophy, providing insights on how to combat the disease. Hypertrophy is the number one cause of sudden death in young people. It can be a hereditary condition, but can also be induced by other diseases like diabetes, or by too much demanding exercise.
To develop different treatments, Professor Nikolai Zhelev and his team of scientists from the Scottish university grow the healthy hearts from stem cells. Next, they chemically create the conditions that trigger hypertrophy. While hearts have been grown in this way in the past, this research marks the first time that scientists have been able to cause disease in them.
As the heart becomes hypertrophic, its cells begin to grow abnormally, enlarging them to the point where the heart can no longer function. Biosensors track the paths of the molecules within the tiny hearts so that Professor Zhelev can see which ones cause hypertrophic conditions.
Then, he is able to tailor drugs to the specific molecules so that they do follow these same paths, effectively stopping the hypertrophy before it begins. Professor Zhelev is testing many different drugs with varying levels of success. Interestingly, a drug originally developed to treat cancer is also having positive results on these miniature hypertrophic hearts.