• Question: Can a stem cell make a heart

    Asked by elboorhuon to Matt, Leila, Gemma, Dave, Alison on 22 Jan 2014.
    • Photo: David Christensen

      David Christensen answered on 22 Jan 2014:

      Hi elboorhuon, thanks for the question!

      Yes, stem cells can make a heart. All of our bodies originally come from a single cell, which is the fertilised egg. This means that it happens all the time that a heart is made from the first stem cells in an embryo. Also, there are actually stem cells in our hearts that work to repair damage and replace dead heart cells. These facts have led scientists to try to develop regenerative medicine, which is the research area that aims to treat diseases by replacing the organs or tissues that don’t work properly.

      So, scientists have started trying to work out the way to make a heart from stem cells and they actually managed to make a mouse heart from stem cells last year. If we can make mouse hearts that work properly, then hopefully we will be able to make human hearts using stem cells sometime in the not too distant future.

      I hope this answers your question!

    • Photo: Gemma Swiers

      Gemma Swiers answered on 22 Jan 2014:

      Hi elboorhuon, you have asked a very good question and I agree with Dave that the heart, the first organ that is made during development, is made from a single cell – a fertilised egg.

      Recently it’s been discovered that the heart is able to make more heart cells (called cardiomyocytes) even when we get older. Scientists think that there must be some sort of heart stem cell that is able to do this, although they haven’t been able to find these cells yet.

      Some people who work on a small fish called the zebrafish are very excited because zebrafish are able to make new heart cells (regenerate) when their heart has been damaged. It is hoped that this research will help us to understand how we can make new heart cells to replace the ones that get damaged when you have a heart attack.