Thousands of Americans wait for an organ donation each year. There are roughly 4,000 patients waiting for a heart transplant, but it is estimated that only 2,500 will actually receive the transplant they need. Even the recipients of those transplants face obstacles after their surgery, which include possible rejection of the new organ. Researches have been working toward a solution to both the shortage and the rejection issues, and stem cell research has propelled those solutions forward.
A team of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School have created a functional human heart tissue by using adult skin cells to regenerate into the heart tissue. The scientists noted that a possible solution to keep the possibility of rejection down is to use the patient’s own cells to create the synthetic tissue. The process for which the scientists use to create the cardiac cells from skin cells utilized messenger RNA to take the skin cells and turn them into pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are simply cells that can become specialized to any type of cell in the human body. Once the cells were reversed back to pluripotent cells, the scientists were able to essentially reprogram the cells to become cardiac cells.
While research has been progressing well, the scientists are not quite ready to create human heart tissue from the patient’s own tissues, but the research so far makes this a likely future possibility. Once the cardiac tissue has been created, the next step would be to create an entire heart for the purposes of transplants.