Building a complex human organ in the lab is no longer a dream of science fiction. At London's Royal Free Hospital, a team of 30 scientists is manufacturing a variety of body parts, including windpipes, noses and ears. WSJ's Gautam Naik reports. Photo: Gareth Phillips
The problem had been cracked by Dr. Taylor. She said that when human stem cells were put into a heart scaffold in 2010, they seemed to know just where to go. "They organized themselves in a way I didn't believe," said Dr. Taylor, who now works at the Texas Heart Institute but makes regular visits to Madrid to help with the experiments. "It's amazing that the [scaffold] can be as instructional as it is. Maybe we don't need to micromanage every aspect of this."
A person's heart grows in the womb where its cells receive the right mixtures of oxygen and nutrients and chemicals to grow into a working organ. To duplicate that process in a laboratory, scientists uses a device called a bioreactor, which has various tubes ferrying materials to the heart and whisking away waste products. The lab's bioreactor—a cylindrical device nearly a foot in diameter—is being designed by Harvard Bioscience Inc., HBIO+3.61% a maker of medical devices in Holliston, Mass. The machine will be ready for experiments in April, according to Dr. Aviles.
Dr. Aviles said he hopes to have a working, lab-made version ready in five or six years, but the regulatory and safety hurdles for putting such an organ in a patient will be high. The most realistic scenario, he said, is that "in about 10 years" his lab will be transplanting heart parts.
He and his team already have grown early-stage valves and patches that could be used some day to repair tissue damaged by heart attack.