Beating Heart Tissue and Blood Vessels Grown from Stem Cells

Human embryonic stem cells have been used to create beating cardiac tissue with associative blood vessels in research coming from the Technion in Israel. The hope is, of course, to transplant one day such tissue into the hearts of patients with depressed cardiac function.
Technion researchers from the Faculty of Bio-Medical Engineering and the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine have succeeded in creating in the laboratory beating heart tissue from human embryonic stem cells. Moreover -- they have succeeded in creating blood vessels in the tissue, which will enable its acceptance by the heart muscle.
The researchers are Dr. Shulamit Levenberg and Prof. Lior Gepstein. They were joined by doctoral student Oren Caspi and master student Ayelet Lesman.

The prestigious scientific journal Circulation Research reports in its on-line issue on two innovations in the researchers' work: one, the use of human embryonic stem cells, and two, the creation of a vascular system in the tissue, which is critical for its acceptance by the body.

"Without this system, acceptance could be prolonged and the cells could die during this time period," explains Dr. Levenberg. "In our work, we demonstrated the importance of the endothelial cells (cells that build blood vessels), which encourage differentiation of the heart cells and their organization, in addition to their multiplication. That is - it is important to create heart cell tissue, with all its component cells, in this case the endothelial cells, heart cells and cells that support the blood vessels."

The Technion researchers created the heart tissue in the laboratory by differentiating human embryonic stem cells into heart muscle cells and endothelial cells and growing them together with embryonic supporting cells (fibroblasts). The growth was done in three dimensions on a porous, biodegradable scaffold that the Technion researchers also created in their laboratory. In the future, they will examine the possibility of implanting the tissue in a heart, in order to see if the blood vessels in the engineered tissue will improve acceptance of the new tissue and its connection to the vascular system.

Wouldn’t such new blood vessels also be required in some spinal cord injuries?