Friday, April 13, 2007

Growing a New Heart

BBC News 2 April 2007 Heart valve grown from stem cells

British scientists have grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. Heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, who led the team, said doctors could be using artificially grown heart components in transplants within three years. His researchers at Harefield hospital managed to grow tissue that works in the same way as human heart valves. Sir Magdi told the Guardian newspaper a whole heart could be produced from stem cells within 10 years.

This is an expected development as more work is done in research on stem cell technologies. However it is one thing to grow functioning organ tissues and another to grow a whole organ. Growing a new heart witthin 10 years may be overly optimistic. However it cannot be denied that this is a significant milestones.

Acting Chief of Cardiology, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, Associate Professor of Cardiology, UAMS and Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) Member Eugene S. Smith, III, MD comments

Stem cells continue to hold great promise for new treatments. As some leading scientists and legislators press for expansion of unethical embryonic stem cell research, it's adult stem cells that lead the race for clinical application. The work by Sir Magdi Yacoub is but one more example of a major advance for ethically sound stem cell therapy.

Admittedly this application is still not a reality, but it is a major step forward. If human cardiac valve tissue or even entire heart valves could be grown in culture, they would likely function much better than existing prosthetic heart valves. Many of the problems associated with artificial heart valves -- including re-operation -- could be eliminated.
The possibility of growing an entire organ seems a rather distant goal and the timelines given by Sir Magdi may be too optimistic, but one should not dismiss outright the opinion of one of the most respected heart surgeons in Britain. This provides even more impetus to put our research efforts into adult stem cells which avoid the ethical dilemmas plaguing embryonic stem cells and offer hope for imminent therapeutic application.

I agree with Eugene that more emphasis, support, and funding be given to adult stem cells research. Hopefully, its applications and progress will outstrip embryonic stem cells research making the latter redundant because of obvious ethical concerns.
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