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A Heart’s Second Life

As researchers study hearts they have stripped down to their underlying structure, they move closer to growing living, functioning versions.

By Charles Slack // The MGH Research Issue 2011

This human heart, from a deceased donor, is suspended in sodium dodecyl sulfate (a common ingredient in shampoo), which gently washes away the heart’s cells. Then, after being bathed for a week in saline to rinse off the detergent, all that remains is a ghostly, translucent scaffold composed of protein. Harald Ott, an instructor in surgery at MGH, thinks that the scaffold can provide the underlying structure for a replacement organ, down to its tiniest vessels. Once the scaffold is injected (“seeded”) with a recipient’s own cells—to avoid rejection, which ultimately claims about half of transplanted organs—he surmises that it will be able to grow a living, functioning human heart. Ott has already used the process to create a functioning rat heart, though a transplantable human version, because of its size and mass and the need for many more cells, is still years away.


Bruce Peterson for Proto


Video: The Reanimated Heart

Stripped of cells to leave behind a ghostly scaffold, this rat heart was reseeded with new muscle that allowed it to beat again.

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