A team of scientists from Abertay University in Scotland has developed thousands of miniature beating hearts in the lab in the hopes of finding a cure for a particular heart disease called ventricular hypertrophy. This is a form of heart disease in which the muscles of the ventricles, or chambers, become thickened or enlarged.
Lab-grown hearts are not new to science. However, the authors of this particular study claim this is the first time disease has been induced in the mini hearts. “In some people, a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm will develop, and this is the most common cause of sudden death in young people,” said Professor Nikolai Zhelev, an author of the study, in a press release. “Although there are treatments, these only help to control the symptoms and there is no known cure at the moment.”
Zhelev further explained, “Heart hypertrophy can be hereditary, can be caused by diseases such as diabetes or can be caused by doing too much strenuous exercise. In some people, a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm will develop and this is the most common cause of sudden death in young people. Although there are treatments, these only help to control the symptoms, and there is no known cure at the moment.”
The hearts are tiny at just one millimeter in diameter and beat on their own accord, contracting at about 30 beats per minute. They were developed using stem cells. The researchers hope to develop medications that target certain molecules and pathways that are connected to ventricular hypertrophy. They already found that one particular cancer drug worked well in halting hypertrophy, due to the fact that the pathways of molecules in hypertrophic hearts are quite similar to those in cancerous cells.
Zhelev says that although it may be a long time before the drugs are available for use by consumers, he hopes that “one day [we will] be able to stop heart hypertrophy from developing in those at risk of the disease.”