Healing broken hearts: scientists have created a beating and self-repairing human heart muscle

24 May 2017

Scientists at UQ have created a functional human heart muscle from stem cells that will allow them to better understand and treat one of Australia’s deadliest diseases.

The research was led by Dr James Hudson and Dr Enzo Porrello from the UQ School of Biomedical Sciences in collaboration with German researchers and  was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the National Heart Foundation.

Dr Hudson said the research had allowed them to build models of human heart tissue in a petri dish, this breakthrough will allow them to better study cardiac biology and diseases, and test potential treatments.

“The patented technology enables us to now perform experiments on human heart tissue in the lab,” Dr Hudson said.

“This provides scientists with viable, functioning human heart muscle to work on, to model disease, screen new drugs and investigate heart repair.”

The research has since been extended by the UQ Cardiac Regeneration Laboratory to look at the heart muscles ability to regenerate following injury.

“Our goal is to use this model to potentially find new therapeutic targets to enhance or induce cardiac regeneration in people with heart failure,” Dr Hudson said.

“In the laboratory we used dry ice to kill part of the tissue while leaving the surrounding muscle healthy and viable,” Dr Hudson said.

“We found those tissues fully recovered because they were immature and the cells could regenerate – in contrast to what happens normally in the adult heart where you get a ‘dead’ patch.

“Studying regeneration of these damaged, immature cells will enable us to figure out the biochemical events behind this process.

“Hopefully we can determine how to replicate this process in adult hearts for cardiovascular patients.”

Each year, about 54,000 Australians suffer a heart attack, with an average of about 23 deaths every day.

Heart Foundation Queensland CEO Stephen Vines said the charity was excited to fund such an important research project.

“Heart attack survivors who have had permanent damage to their heart tissue are essentially trying to live on half an engine,” Mr Vines said.

“The research by Dr Hudson and Dr Porello will help unlock the key to regenerating damaged heart tissue, which will have a huge impact on the quality of life for heart attack survivors.”

“Dr Hudson and Dr Porello are deserved recipients of our highest national research accolade – the Future Leader Fellowship Award.”

The research is published in Circulation and Development.

Finding cures to the world’s deadliest diseases is a priority for UQ, one which can be achieved through the work of researchers such as Dr Porello and Dr Hudson. Philanthropic funding drives these discoveries by providing researchers with the tools, equipment and ability to carry on their work. You too can support further research at the UQ School of Biomedical Sciences here.