A functioning miniature heart the size of a sesame seed

The human heart is a particularly complex organ, but scientists have succeeded in creating a fully functioning miniature one using stem cells.

Thanks to the use of new technologies, medical research is also making giant strides. For what, if we want to abandon scientific rigor for a moment, seem almost "miracles" performed by the hand of man, who can both create and destroy.

From anti-Covid antibodies that can be heard as a melody to the most advanced applications of robotic bioengineering, scholars can now go where we could not even imagine before. Not surprisingly, the authoritative journal Cell has published a study in which scientists have successfully created a bundle of human stem cells in a tiny artificial "heart", which is even the size of a sesame seed. It is now the first self-organized miniature organ to resemble a human heart in structure and function.

Heart-shaped organs, known technically as cardioids, have already been reconstructed in the laboratory in the past, but with different techniques, and that involve the use of a scaffold, a mold or a matrix to go and assemble the cells around. The new model was instead built spontaneously, with the researchers called "only" to mark the predetermined signaling pathways useful to coordinate the development of the heart in the human embryo. What amazed them was the generative autonomy of the tiny artificial organ, with the mass of cells that in just one week of growth in the lab created a 3D structure capable of beating rhythmically - complete with an amazing video that we can watch ourselves.

The human heart is a particularly complex organ, the first to form in a developing embryo, but one whose unique characteristics scientists are still struggling to understand. This simplified cardioid model, developed by the team led by biologist Sasha Mendjan of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, allows us to observe more accurately the "motor" muscle of our body, in the hope of deciphering every aspect. Not only that, but an experiment carried out on the tiny organ also caught the scientists' attention: when the team froze parts of the mini-heart using a cold steel bar, they noticed that some of the cells began to die in a manner very similar to when there is a heart attack in progress; at the same time other repair cells began to move towards the damage, to produce healing proteins.

The model, at least in the intentions of the study's authors, should help them test the efficacy and safety of cardiac drugs intended for commercialization.

Andrea Guerriero