By Becky Crew
Scientists from Abertay University in the UK have developed tiny beating hearts to help them find a cure for hypertrophy – a potentially lethal form of heart disease caused by abnormal cell growth. Hypertrophy makes the heart muscles grow so big so fast, they become thick and stiff, making it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body. There are treatments available, but these can only help mitigate the symptoms, they can’t cure the disease once it’s developed.
The tiny hearts have been constructed from stem cells and are just 1 mm in diameter. They contract unaided at around 30 beats per minute. They start out perfectly healthy, so to use them in their research, the team, led by professor of medical biotechnology Nikolai Zhelev, uses chemicals to make them mimic the symptoms of being hypertrophic. Once the tiny hearts are diseased, the team can test a range of newly developed medications on them to see how they work. Some of these medications are entirely new, and have not been tested on humans, so these lab-grown hearts provide a safe testing ground.
“Although human hearts have been grown in labs before, this is the first time it has ever been possible to induce disease in them, said Zhelev in a press release. “Heart hypertrophy can be hereditary, can be caused by diseases such as diabetes, or can be caused by doing too much strenuous exercise. In some people, a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm will develop, and this is the most common cause of sudden death in young people.”