Stunning video reveals beating heart tissue made from HUMAN stem cells

What becomes of the broken-hearted? Scientists reveal stunning video of beating heart tissue made from HUMAN stem cells that will help doctors treat serious conditions

  • The strand of cardiac tissue is similar in function to that in the heart’s atria
  • It was created using pluripotent stem cells that came from a human source
  • Footage shows it twitching and beating in the same way as human heart tissue  
  • It could be used to treat atrial fibrillation – the most common type of arrhythmia
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A piece of heart tissue that beats like a real organ has been created using human stem cells.

The strand of ‘human’ heart contracts in the same way as a genuine organ.

Video footage shows the cardiac material twitching regularly and researchers say it is similar in structure to the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria.

They claim the lab-grown heart tissue functions and responds to drugs like a real heart and it could be used to treat atrial fibrillation – the most common type of arrhythmia.

More than 33 million people worldwide suffer from the condition which can cause blood clots and heart failure. 

‘This is the first time that human atrial heart tissue has been generated in vitro from a principally unlimited source of hiPSCs,’ says first author Marta Lemme, a PhD student at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. 

‘This could be useful both for academic laboratories and the pharmaceutical industry, because to test potential new drugs, we need to generate an in vitro model of atrial fibrillation. 

‘And the first step in that is to obtain cells that resemble human atrial cardiomyocytes.’

Researchers generated heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC).

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Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to differentiate into a wide variety of different cells depending on what is needed by the body.

They are found in bone marrow, among other places in the body, and are the most versatile cells in an adult human. 

Only embryonic stem cells are more adaptable and are defined as totipotent.

Researchers designed the artificial heart tissue to specifically resemble cells found in the heart’s atria.

‘The novelty of this study is the combination of hiPSC differentiation into atrial cardiomyocytes with a 3D environment,’ Ms Lemme says. 

‘In fact, we showed that the 3D environment favours the differentiation toward an atrial phenotype compared to standard 2D culture. 


Remarkable video footage shows the piece of cardiac material (pictured) twitching regularly and researchers claim it is very similar in structure to the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria

WHAT IS ATRIAL FIBRILLATION?

Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

A normal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you’re resting.

You can measure your heart rate by feeling the pulse in your neck or wrist.

In atrial fibrillation, the heart rate is irregular and can sometimes be very fast. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute.

This can cause problems including dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around 1 million people in the UK.

It can affect adults of any age, but it’s more common in older people. It affects about 7 in 100 people aged over 65.

You may be aware of noticeable heart palpitations, where your heart feels like it’s pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for a few seconds or, in some cases, a few minutes.

You should make an appointment to see your GP if:

  • you notice a sudden change in your heartbeat
  • your heart rate is consistently lower than 60 or above 100 (particularly if you’re experiencing other symptoms of atrial fibrillation, such as dizziness and shortness of breath)
  • See your GP as soon as possible if you have chest pain.

Source: NHS 

‘A particular value of our study is the direct comparison of our 3D engineered heart tissue with native human atrial tissue obtained from patients on a molecular and functional level.’  

More than 33 million people worldwide suffer from atrial fibrillation and the condition is believed to be on the rise.  

The condition involves uncoordinated high-frequency contractions in the atria and increases the risk of blood clots, strokes and heart failure.

Existing treatments, such as antiarrhythmic drugs, have limited efficacy and can often trigger adverse side-effects. 

Developing new drugs to treat the condition has been hindered by the difficulty in isolating and maintaining human atrial cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells, to test them on.  

Previous research has used animal models but the effectiveness of this method is limited due to the difference between their physiology and that of a human’s. 

‘These atrial muscle strips represent a great opportunity to model atrial fibrillation in the dish and test drugs,’ Ms Lemme says. 

‘Nevertheless, improvements can still be made to reach even higher similarity with the human atrial tissue. 

‘For us, the next step is to test various means to induce arrhythmias, study mechanisms of electrical remodeling of atrial fibrillation and test new potential drugs.’

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