Prof. Lior Gepstein in the lab – the creation of blood vessels in the system is as important as the beating heart tissue.An Israeli scientific team from the Technion have succeeded in creating in the laboratory beating heart tissue from human embryonic stem cells.

Moreover, the researchers – Dr. Shulamit Levenberg and Prof. Lior Gepstein – have succeeded in creating blood vessels in the tissue, which will enable its acceptance by the heart muscle.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. During heart attacks, tissue is destroyed when blood is temporarily cut off to a section of the heart, and this tissue can never be repaired

The scientific journal Circulation Research reports in its on-line issue on two innovations in the researchers’ work: one, the use of human embryonic stem cells, and two, the creation of a vascular system in the tissue, which is critical for its acceptance by the body.

“Without this system, acceptance could be prolonged and the cells could die during this time period,” explains Levenberg. “In our work, we demonstrated the importance of the endothelial cells (cells that build blood vessels), which encourage differentiation of the heart cells and their organization, in addition to their multiplication. That is – it is important to create heart cell tissue, with all its component cells, in this case the endothelial cells, heart cells and cells that support the blood vessels.”

The Technion researchers created the heart tissue in the laboratory by differentiating human embryonic stem cells into heart muscle cells and endothelial cells and growing them together with embryonic supporting cells (fibroblasts). The growth was done in three dimensions on a porous, biodegradable scaffold that the Technion researchers also created in their laboratory.

In the future, they will examine the possibility of implanting the tissue in a heart, in order to see if the blood vessels in the engineered tissue will improve acceptance of the new tissue and its connection to the vascular system.

Last year Levenberg was named by the prestigious American journal Scientific American as one of the world’s 50 leading scientists for 2006, for her groundbreaking work in tissue engineering – a development which could result in the ability of scientists to create tissue for various medical uses and to eventually replace damaged organs in the body. Levenberg believes the accomplishment may one day lead to the cure of degenerative diseases.