Growing a fragment of human heart tissue with a major EU grant

Professor Christine Mummery has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant of 2.5 million euro. She will use the grant to finance research into how human heart cells are made and will also be trying to grow a fragment of human heart.

How are heart cells grown?

Christine Mummery, Professor in the Anatomy and Embryology department at the LUMC, will first examine how the different types of cells in the heart are created. 'We will do this by growing so-called rainbow cells from stem cells,' Mummery explains. 'The heart is made up of many different types of cells, not all of which we can grow. We give the genes different colours so that we can track the progress of the cells.'


Testing medicines

Christine Mummery

Christine Mummery

Later in the five-year project Mummery wants to try to grow a fragment of human heart. She will do this by exchanging the cells from the heart of a lab animal for human cells. 'If we manage to grow a piece of heart tissue, we can use it to test medicines. Currently, many potential medicines never make it to market because they disturb the heart function.' Lab animals are generally not suitable for testing medicines because animal hearts work differently. A mouse heart, for example, beats about 500 times a minute, in comparison to the human heart's 70 times a minute.


Cardiac dysrhythmia

The lab-grown heart tissue is also suitable for research into mutations that cause cardiac dysrhythmia. Mummery: Two people might have the same mutation but one of them has a lot more problems than the other. At the LUMC we can reprogramme patients' skin cells and develop them into heart cells. If we can grow a fragment of heart, we can then try to find out what causes cardiac dysrhythmia. We don't know yet whether we will be able to grow the heart tissue, but this EU subsidy is specifically intended for high risk, high gain research.' In other words: there's a high risk that growing heart tissue will not be possible, but if it does prove possible, the gains will be enormous.  


(27 February 2013/ Source: LUMC)

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Last Modified: 27-02-2013