Dead Hearts Beat Again, Thanks to Science

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Heart500.jpg Scientists at the University of Minnesota have combined young cells with dead hearts to make…new hearts. Yes, that’s right sci-fi fans: They grew a new, living, beating heart right there in their lab.

How they did it: Researchers used new heart cells from baby rats and combined them with the valves and “outer structure” of an adult rat’s dead heart. In two weeks, “the cells formed a new beating heart that conducted electrical impulses and pumped a small amount of blood,” reported the New York Times. As the scientists detailed in Nature Medicine yesterday, the newly created hearts were implanted in other rats, and were not rejected. The process, called “whole organ recellularization,” could be done with virtually any organ, said researcher Doris Taylor.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in our country. Currently, there are about 3,000 people waiting for donor hearts and 550,000 people are diagnosed with heart disease each year. Even for those lucky enough to get a donor heart, the surgery provides no guarantee that their body won’t reject the organ. The new process reduces risk of rejection and actually increases the chance that the body will grow new blood vessels and muscles on the implanted heart. So the discovery that we may be able to some day re-grow our own hearts for implantation is encouraging, to say the least. If this kind of procedure were to be used in humans (and scientists involved in the experiment emphasize that that’s about 10 years away), stem cells from the patient’s own bone marrow would be injected into a specially prepared heart-like structure made from cadaver parts.

But if we ever have the ready option of organ replacement, will we live our lives differently? Will we eat hamburgers and cheesecake in abandon, secure in the knowledge that heart #2 is waiting for us in a freezer somewhere? My biggest question, really: Would this therapy be affordable for all, or for like many other medical breakthroughs would only the rich be able to afford it? Which brings us back to reason number 2,360 to support universal healthcare.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.