Bringing A ‘Ghost Heart’ To Life
The human heart is one of the most complicated organs in our body. The heart is, in a way, like a machine—the muscular organ pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood in an adult human every day. But can we construct a heart in the lab? Some scientists are turning to engineering to find ways to preserve that constant lub dub when a heart stops working.
One team of researchers created a biohybrid heart, which combines a pig heart and mechanical parts. The team could control the beating motion of the heart to test prosthetic and artificial valves. Their findings were published in the journal Science Robotics in January. Mechanical engineering student Clara Park, an author on that study, talks about what it takes to engineer a biohybrid heart and how this model could be used in the future to develop implantable hearts and understand heart failure.
At the Texas Heart Institute, Doris Taylor is developing a regenerative method for heart construction. She pioneered the creation of “ghost hearts”—animal hearts that are stripped of their original cells and injected with stem cells to create a personalized heart. So far, Taylor has only developed the technique with animal hearts, but in the future these ghost hearts could be used as scaffolds to grow transplant hearts for patients. Taylor talks about how much we know about the heart and why it continues to fascinate us.
View more visuals from both labs’ research below.
Warning: The photos and videos below feature images that some viewers may find distressing.
*Editor’s Correction 2/14/2020: A previous version of this page incorrectly stated the name of the journal of the biohybrid heart research. The text has also been changed to clarify that the biohybrid heart model is meant for intracardiac devices such as prosthetic and artificial valves, not pacemakers. We regret the errors.
Clara Park is a Phd candidate in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Doris Taylor is Director of Regenerative Medicine Research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Texas.