Bringing A ‘Ghost Heart’ To Life

20:38 minutes

an echo in black and white of a heart beating
Biorobotic hybrid heart in action recorded with echocardiography. It was engineered by a team of researchers from various institutions. Credit: Mossab Saeed, Boston Children’s Hospital

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. 

a woman in a lab coat smiles behind lab equipment
Doris Taylor at the Texas Heart Institute lab. Credit: Texas Heart Institute

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.

two hearts. on the left is an x-ray version that reveals the valves. on the right is a color photo of the heart, with some patchwork on the right corner
(Left) MRI of the biorobotic hybrid heart and (right) camera picture of the biorobotic hybrid heart with the soft robotic muscle band overlaid. Credit: credit: Christopher Nguyen, MGH/Clara Park, MIT)
a white heart attached to tubing. it glows from a light shining behind it
A ghost heart. Credit: Texas Heart Institute
Credit: Texas Heart Institute

*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.   

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Segment Guests

Clara Park

Clara Park is a Phd candidate in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Doris Taylor

Doris Taylor is Director of Regenerative Medicine Research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Texas.

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