BOBI Announces Advance on Heart Cell

ResearchOctober 19, 2008

The Bernard O’Brien Institute announced a significant advance in tissue engineering when it revealed how scientists had created living heart muscle cells from human fat.

Scientists at the Institute became the first to convert stem cells from human fat into beating heart cells. The development has important implications for treatment of heart disease if repeated and developed in clinical trials. In future, hearts damaged by heart attacks or congenital abnormalities may be repaired with heart tissue generated from the patient’s fat. Such treatment would eliminate the problems of tissue and organ rejection. It would also overcome the shortage of donor tissue because fat tissue is in plentiful supply.

The announcement made front-page news in The Sunday Age on October 17 and appeared in all four evening news bulletins in the evening.

Beating Stem Cells Video

Visiting Korean researcher Yu Suk Choi and his supervisor Dr Rodney Dilley, a senior research scientist at the Institute, appeared in a multimedia presentation on The Age’s web site. The presentation included striking video clips of the beating cells.

The Institute director, Professor Wayne Morrison, was interviewed on national television. The research is based on tissue engineering procedures and stem cell techniques perfected at the Institute.

First, the scientists took human fat tissue gathered during liposuction surgery. Then they isolated stem cells from the fat and treated them with a mixture of agents to encourage them to grow into heart cells. Scientists had known for some time that fat tissue contained stem cells with the capacity to grow into various body cells.

The scientists then used DNA-based tests to establish that the cells appeared to be changing into heart cells. Further tests confirmed the cells contained specific cardiac proteins found in human heart cells.

The big breakthrough came this year when the scientists grew the human cells together with rat heart cells and they observed – and filmed – the unique characteristic of heart muscle cells: the stem cells were beating.

The scientists are unsure what triggered the cells to start beating. They speculate that the rat cells may have transmitted signals to the human cells to start beating.

The next step is to implant the human heart cells onto the damaged heart of a laboratory rat to see whether they repair the heart. Then they would be trialled in higher species such as sheep and pigs before human applications could be considered. Clinical application could be five years away, depending on progress in the next experiments.

View The Age’s web site presentation by clicking on