University researchers create heart valves from human cells

by Katelyn Faulks


Adults and children who need a replacement heart valve may have an alternative to current animal valve implants, since a University of Minnesota biomedical research team has successfully created heart valves and arteries from human tissue. 


Members of the lab run by Professor Robert Tranquillo, department head of biomedical engineering, published a study in the July issue of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, the Star Tribune reports. 


The engineered valves function just like a normal heart valve does, expanding and contracting like a balloon. To make them stronger, Syedain created a “bioreactor” that exercises the tubes by stretching and relaxing them. 


When implanted in an adult patient, the patient’s cells are expected to form around the valve and transform it into living tissue that would function like a normal human heart valve. The valves also have the potential to grow along with a child’s body, a trait that current replacement valves fail to do. 


“After just a couple of weeks [the tube is] much shorter as the cells have pulled all these fibrin fibers together and squeezed out the water,” Tranquillo said in the Star Tribune article. “So the cells act like little material-processing agents to create the alignment that we want.”


Compared to other replacement valves made from animal tissues, these engineered ones shouldn’t need replacing or medication, as long as it’s made from the patient’s own cells. 


If Tranquillo and his team can successfully implant these valves into lambs and sheep, then they may be able to implant them into humans, including children.