Modern medical technology enables more effective heart treatments
Regenerative medicine is concerned with the production of living tissue or organs in the laboratory based on human cells. Researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH), the Technical University of Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin are currently developing tailor-made solutions for heart operations. The scientists focus on individual prostheses that grow and regenerate. The doctors recently made a big breakthrough in model experiments with sheep.
A central element of this research area is so-called "tissue engineering", in which "spare parts" are grown in a test tube. With these cultivated parts, defective cells and tissues in the human body will also be replaced in the future and normal function will be restored. The living implants have major advantages over their artificial predecessors. They do not trigger a defense reaction in the body. They also grow and regenerate. The research results were recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
New milestone in regenerative medicine
An international consortium has now reached a new milestone in regenerative medicine under the direction of UZH professor Simon P. Hoerstrup. In computer simulations, the researchers have been able to predict how well self-developed heart valves work, grow and regenerate in sheep. "Thanks to the simulations, we can optimize the design and composition of the regenerative heart valves and develop tailor-made implants for therapy," reports Hoerstrup from the Institute for Regenerative Medicine in a press release from UZH.
Clinical application is imminent
These simulations represent an important and indispensable step towards clinical application. According to the researchers, the computer simulation can be used to predict the changes in the structure of the heart valve that occur in the body during the dynamic regeneration process. This allows the design of the heart valve to be individually adjusted. The scientists emphasize that this is an important contribution to transfer the technologies of regenerative medicine from theory to clinical application.
Today's prostheses have to be changed regularly
Heart disease and heart valve defects are among the leading global causes of morbidity and mortality. According to the scientists, today's artificial heart valves are an unsatisfactory solution, especially in children with congenital heart defects. These prostheses have to be replaced constantly because they do not grow with the body. The resulting surgeries increase the mortality risk, which is a major psychosocial burden for the young patients and their families.
Master the last hurdles
Despite promising research results and initial clinical applications, researchers still have to overcome a few hurdles before the technology can become a routine clinical procedure. "One of the biggest challenges with complex implants such as heart valves is that each patient has an individual regeneration potential," explains Hoerstrup. There is therefore no general solution for everyone. He and his team have been working on cardiovascular tissue engineering for more than 20 years.
New study in the starting blocks
Another study on the subject is currently being prepared at the University Children's Hospital Zurich. For the first time, children with congenital heart defects are to be treated with blood vessels that have been developed under the latest standards in the fields of regenerative medicine and robotics. (vb)