Lab-grown muscle in heart transplant breakthrough

Japanese research team announces world-first. Lab-grown heart muscles created from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells successfully transplanted into a human: a new take on heart transplant techniques.

The team from Osaka University used degradable sheets containing lab-created heart muscle cells; these were placed onto the damaged areas of the heart of a patient suffering from ischaemic cardiomyopathy.

Longevity.Technology: Does this breakthrough spell the end to a need for donor hearts for transplants? Rather than replacing an entire heart – and removing healthy and functioning tissue along with damaged tissue – this novel approach would allow just the damaged areas to be targeted, making it less invasive, more likely to be successful and cheaper as well as eliminating the need for a donor organ to be available in the first place.

Ischaemic cardiomyopathy is a condition in which a person’s heart has difficulty pumping blood round the body because the heart muscles do not receive enough blood. When the condition is severe, a heart transplant can be required, but the Osaka team is hopeful their sheets will present a better option to patients.

The heart muscles cells were created from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. First skin or blood cells are harvested from a healthy donor and reprogrammed so they become stem cells with an embryo cell-like ability called pluripotency, which means they can be nudged into being whatever sort of cell the researchers need.

AgeX Therapeutics and Lineage Cell Therapeutics were awarded a US patent for ‘Method of Generating Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells’. “This patent broadly describes multiple techniques for reprogramming cells of the body back to the all-powerful stem cell state,” said Dr Michael D West, CEO of AgeX and first inventor on the patent.

Taking the iPS cells, the Osaka team nudged them into becoming heart muscle cells and then placed them on a series of small sheets that were 4 to 5 centimetres in diameter and just 0.1 millimetre thick. Once in situ in the patient’s heart, the researchers hope the muscle cells will secrete a protein, thought to be certain cytokines, or signalling proteins, that will help blood vessels to regenerate, thus increasing blood flow and the function of the heart. The sheets degrade and will have disappeared from the patient several months after secreting the substance.

The next stage is a year’s monitoring of the patient, who is currently in a stable condition, followed by nine similar procedures on other ischaemic cardiomyopathy sufferers over the next three years.

Speaking at a news conference, researcher Yoshiki Sawa said: “I hope that [the muscle cell transplant] will become a medical technology that will save as many people as possible, as I’ve seen many lives that I couldn’t save [1].”

There is a risk that iPS-derived tissue transplants could contain cells that might become cancerous. Sawa said that his team: “has made great efforts to remove potentially cancerous cells [2].” Using iPS cells derived from donors will also mean the additional burden of undergoing immunosuppressant therapy for patients already suffering from heart failure which is akin to the heart transplant challenges.

iPS remains a hot Longevity opportunity; we have recently covered AgeX and Lineage’s pluripotent patent, Healios’ pluripotent stem cell therapy and AgeX’s collaboration with a Japanese biopharm company to roll out its universal donor therapy platform. The Osaka team have added another string to iPS’s bow.


Image credit: Louis Bauer / Pexels