Heartening newsThe news that scientists have grown a functioning heart in the laboratory is another remarkable development in the long quest to extend the life of those with end-stage heart disease.
It has been 40 years since Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first human heart transplant and 25 years since Dr. Robert Jarvik implanted the first artificial pump inside a patient’s chest. Both technologies were remarkable achievements, although neither has proved the ultimate answer for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death among men and women. A permanent implantable artificial heart has eluded inventors, and while anti-rejection drugs have made transplants a longterm option for some patients, many die while awaiting a donor.
Scientists caution that growing a rat heart is one small and uncertain step toward accomplishing the same with a human heart. Given the success in growing other replacement tissues, however, it is a promising, if distant, possibility. Meanwhile, as we await further developments, the best course is to follow heart-healthy practices, eating a low-fat diet rich in vegetables and fruits, getting regular exercise and avoiding tobacco products. And if you haven’t signed up to be an organ donor, consider doing so.