Lab-grown heart tissue yields insights

Stem cell-derived heart tissue used to study tachycardia

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Researchers have engineered heart tissue out of stem cells to study what makes our body’s engine tick. A team led by Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, the Simon H. Stertzer, MD, professor of medicine and of radiology, created the tissue and is using it to study how an abnormally fast heartbeat — tachycardia — can cause the heart to lose its ability to pump blood sufficiently, a condition known as tachycardia-induced cardiomyopathy.

“Tachycardia is probably more common than we think,” said postdoctoral scholar Chengyi Tu, PhD. 

To study the condition, Wu and his collaborators conducted a 10-day experiment using the engineered heart cells: Over the first five days, they induced tachycardia by stimulating the tissue with electricity. Over the next five days, the tissue made a full recovery.

The outcome tracks with what doctors already know about tachycardia-induced cardiomyopathy — that the condition is mostly reversible.

In another experiment, the researchers used electricity to induce tachycardia in a different group of engineered heart cells. The team supplemented some of the cells with NAD — a molecule that supports energy reactions. On the day after electrical stimulation ended, the treated cells recovered 83% of their original function, whereas the untreated cells showed little improvement.

By giving patients NAD through an off-the-shelf supplement or by IV injection, the researchers believe they can restore the chemical balance and accelerate a patient’s recovery from tachycardia-induced cardiomyopathy.

The results of the experiments were reported Nov. 27, 2023, in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Tu is the lead author, and Wu is the senior author.

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