Over the past 20 years, several biotechnology teams in the world have been actively working on the practical implementation of the idea of growing heart valves from the stem cells.
The urgency of this task is due to the prevalence of inborn heart defects in newborns worldwide. And to save such a baby, it is necessary to perform several surgical interventions for prosthetics of the heart valve, because artificial valves do not grow with children and periodically require replacement.
However, an ambitious project to create biological prosthetic heart valves from stem cells has been implemented by Ukrainian scientists. Ukrainian doctors presented their know-how at the International Medical Forum in Kiev.
Now Ukrainian cardiologists are trying out the technology, which is new even for the world. A human heart model can be seen in a laboratory in Kiev. It throbs like a real heart, though its valve is made of a pericardium of a bull. Up to now, this tissue has been used to replace parts of the heart instead of artificial tissue. But according to Dmitry Glyuma, head of the medical devices department of the enterprise, producing implants, the drawbacks of heart valves made from the pericardium of a bull are that they are short-lived, get worn out and calcified.
Now another option for transplantation has been invented – several years of hard work of doctors, physicists and biologists, and Dmitry Grekov, cardiologist-perfusiologist at the Scientific and Practical Center of Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine showed a flap tissue grown from stem cells. From this tissue, cardiac surgeons will be able to model a miniature valve, cusp, or required heart fragment that will grow with the baby.
To obtain the desired heart fragment, cells of the umbilical cord blood or adipose tissue are placed in a stitched stencil, which during a month and a half will be overgrown by tissues and will become the desired implant. World scientists have already learned how to create tendons, gallbladders and urinary bladders from the stem cells. But the heart is a much more complex structure.
The invention has already been tested on sheep by Ukrainian doctors, but the first animal had to be donated for the sake of science. After 6 months, which sheep lived safely with a new valve, created from stem cells, the animal was slaughtered to see how the implant engrafted. According to Professor Ilya Yemets, Director of the Scientific and Practical Center of Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, he did not expect such success. Now doctors plan to transplant a live cardiac implant to a person. And this team of national scientists is not going to stop, their goal – to grow a whole heart.