Can you imagine having a ghost heart beating in your chest? By bringing back pig hearts to life, this could be possible soon. Worldwide around 25 million individuals suffer from heart failure. With donor organ shortage and rejection approximately 2500 hearts are being transplanted each year. This gap shows the need for sustainable and effective ways to implement heart transplantations, but with all new technologies we need to do some ethical reflection.
Lately there has been a lot of research and experimenting in the pig - human organ transplantation, from gene edited pigs onto stemmcells planted into pigs up to the ghost heart - an organ exempt from its own cells. A literary blank page, to be rewritten with the receivers own stems cells.
The procedure is called decellularization and describes the isolation of the extracellular matrix of a tissue in order to receive a DNA free scaffold.This is process is only possible with muscular heart cells, as they do not divide and cannot invigorate by themselves, unlike other organs which have been regenerated and successfully implanted in humans. In the heart case, stem cells are added on to the top of the scaffold, not recharged but growing into life. In order to grow them in the way they would do in a human or pigs body the heart is kept in a device called bioreactor, providing the needed warmth and oxygen level the stem cells require. The biggest challenge in organ transplantation is to prevent the receiver body to reject the new organ. With decellularization though, the chances of rejection decrease immensely as the heart muscles are grown out of the humans own cell blueprints.
At this stage, researchers are still testings on rats in order to find out if the ghost heart can get brought back to life to power a human body. Doris Taylor, from Texas Heart Institute, expects to have a functioning heart in the next ten years. Until then we can think about what it actual means to be a ghost.