Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Heart’s Second Life

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.