Damaged heart? We can rebuild it.

For the first time, scientists have coaxed a damaged heart to regrow healthy tissues on its own. They applied living "patches" to a heart, in what is a major breakthrough for people recovering from heart attacks.

A group of engineers at Columbia University built on previous research into growing hearts using a "tissue scaffold," a piece of stripped-down heart muscle that's pure protein. They used a similar kind of tissue scaffold to grow human heart replacement parts. Delivering these pre-made parts to the heart is a far easier and less invasive process than similar cell infusion treatments.

In a release about the study, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reports:

[The researchers] filled the scaffold with human mesenchymal progenitors (stem cells that can differentiate into many cell types) and then applied the patches to damaged heart tissue. The patches promoted the growth of new blood vessels and released proteins that stimulated the native tissue to repair itself. Moreover, the team also used this controllable platform to identify the signaling mechanisms involved in the repair process, and expand our knowledge about the role of cells and scaffold design on heart repair.

"It really is encouraging to make progress with 'instructing' cells to form human tissues by providing them with the right environments," noted Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic. "The cells are the real 'tissue engineers'-we only design the environments so they can do their work. Because these environments need to mimic the native developmental milieu, the progress in the field is really driven by the interdisciplinary work of bioengineers, stem cell biologists, and clinicians. By enabling regeneration and replacement of our damaged tissues, we can help people live longer and better."

We are closer than ever to growing our organs - and even organ parts - to repair the damage our bodies suffer. And one day, an engineer will rebuild you.

Read the full scientific paper via PNAS

Illustration by Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock