Monday, September 2, 2013

Heart Cell Regeneration

The heart is an amazing organ that is unlike any other organ in the human body. There are four chambers in the heart and while two of them are called "ventricles," they are not identical nor symmetrical. The left ventricle has the arduous task of pumping blood throughout the entire body while the right ventricle's purpose is pumping blood to the lungs for oxygen. While both chambers are ventricles (the bottom pumping chambers of the heart), they look significantly different -- the left ventricle being a bit bigger and more striated or muscular.

The heart muscle that is found in the myocardium allows the heart to pump regularly and it is this part of the heart that can experience problems when a person has a heart attack. When a person has a heart attack, part of the heart dies and mammals are unable to regenerate heart muscle, which is why heart attacks can be fatal. If only mammals could regenerate heart muscle, their hearts might not weaken and doom them to an untimely death.

What if there was a material that could be grafted onto a heart that would encourage regeneration of a person's own native tissue? That would prevent the body from rejecting the material and could actually strengthen a weakened heart. It appears just such a material has been created.

According to an article in BioSpectrum: The Business of Bioscience ( an Australian company, Allied Healthcare, has created a product known as CardioCel® which promotes healing at the site of repair of heart valves. For children born with congenital heart defects involving damaged valves, this product could not only save their lives, but also prevent the children from needing additional operations in the future, since the product seems to attract endogenous stem cells thus allowing normal cell growth and development. This will also help adults whose heart valves have calcified over the years.

One of the most promising aspects of the product is that there is a significantly decreased amount of calcium development in the tissue treated with CardioCel® versus an implant of autologous tissue (tissue taken from another area of a person's body, a.k.a. autograft). The tissue treated with CardioCel® developed 40% less calcium. Calcification, over time, can require repeated surgeries so less calcium should mean that the treatment will present a better repair. In fact, the article says that the site becomes enveloped in endothelial cells and becomes invisible to the immune system thus becoming native tissue.

This is indeed an exciting development in the world of pediatric cardiovascular surgery. Without the ability to clone a human heart, regenerating heart tissue is the next best option! Now the question is, "If a mother finds out in utero that her baby's heart isn't growing properly, would it be possible to somehow operate on the baby before it is born so that it has time, while inside its mother, to let cells repair themselves allowing the baby to be born with a fully functional heart?"

I believe we are moving closer to the day when heart defects can be eradicated. This will only happen with more and more research and with companies like Allied Healthcare leading the way to solutions through the development of bioscience. Reports like the one cited above gives hope to mothers like me, who have children born with less-than-perfect hearts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amazing stuff!! Cardiocel truly sounds like a product that will eradicate the need for repeated heart surgery on young children as well as adults!!