UA Scientists Using Adult Stem Cells to Grow New Heart Tissue, and Someday, New Hearts

Release Date: 
Oct 30, 2001

UA Scientists Using Adult Stem Cells to Grow New Heart Tissue, and Someday, New Hearts
Oct. 30, 2001
From: Jo Marie Gellerman, (520) 626-7301
Using adult stem cells, bioengineering researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center are studying ways to grow functional human heart tissue to repair damaged hearts, an undertaking that could lead to the development of tissue-engineered replacement hearts and other major organs in the laboratory.
The $4 million study, funded by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), focuses on culturing "patches" of living tissue that could be grafted onto damaged hearts to induce growth of new blood vessels. Eventually researchers hope their work will enable scientists to grow a fully functional human heart.

The research involves growing cells in three-dimensional structures, or "scaffolds," instead of in laboratory dishes, explains Stuart K. Williams, PhD, professor and chairman of the UA Biomedical Engineering Program. For the most part, cells grown in a flat dish tend to behave as individual cells. But when grown in a three-dimensional structure, the cells begin to behave as they would in a tissue or organ. "The hope is that these cell cultures will mature into fully functional tissues and organs," he says.

Researchers work with adult stem cells that have the ability to develop into specialized cells, such as cardiac cells. These cells could give scientists a virtual never-ending supply of cardiac cells for tissue engineering. And they may hold clues to solving the problem of organ rejection by using the patient's own cells to grow new organs, says Dr. Williams.

The effort represents a public-private collaboration with Advanced Tissue Sciences, a California-based tissue engineering company that develops and manufactures human-based tissue products for tissue repair and transplantation. Results from some of this work was published in the Oct. 23 issue of Circulation, a medical journal published by the American Heart Association.

(EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: Video and still photography opportunities are available in Dr. Williams' laboratory.)