A team of UK researchers led by heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub of Harefield Hospital in West London revealed that they had used bone marrow stem cells to create a replacement heart valve for the first time. This “off-the-shelf” heart valve could be grown from scratch within weeks.
Sir Magdi, professor of cardiac surgery at Imperial College London and one of the world's leading heart surgeons, said, "Currently people suffering from heart valve disease can be treated with artificial replacement valves - they do the job and save lives but they are far from perfect. Although there has been huge progress in developing mechanical replacements, they still work mechanically and not physiologically - they cannot match the elegant sophisticated functions of living tissues." He added, "The ultimate goal is to produce an 'off the shelf' product which will not cause an immune response from patients. This should be possible in the next five to eight years."
Per the scientists, growing a heart valve is a 4-step process. First, stem cells are removed from the patient’s bone marrow. Then the cells are cultivated in a petri dish with a cocktail of chemicals that coaxes them to turn into heart cells. Third, the new heart cells are put into a biodegradable plastic mold or scaffold. The cells grow and fuse together into the shape of a heart valve while the scaffold dissolves away. Lastly, 6 weeks later the valve is ready to be transplanted into the patient’s heart replacing the faulty one.
The researchers are due to begin testing the valves in animals this year and trials on humans are expected to follow.
Illustration: MicroSoft clipart.
Daily Mail/UK (09/03/07)
ABC Net/AU (09/03/07)
Investor’s Business Daily (09/04/07)
Medical News Today (09/04/07)