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"Mini hearts" on veins could be used to treat circulatory problems


March 28, 2014

The mini heart takes the form of a cuff of cardiac tissue, wrapped around a vein

The mini heart takes the form of a cuff of cardiac tissue, wrapped around a vein

When someone has chronic venous insufficiency, it means that because of faulty valves in their leg veins, oxygen-poor blood isn't able to be pumped back to their heart. The George Washington University's Dr. Narine Sarvazyan has created a possible solution, however – a beating "mini heart" that's wrapped around the vein, to help push the blood through.

The mini heart takes the form of a cuff of rhythmically-contracting heart tissue, made by coaxing the patient's own adult stem cells into becoming cardiac cells. When one of those cuffs is placed around a vein, its contractions aid in the unidirectional flow of blood, plus it helps keep the vein from becoming distended. Additionally, because it's grown from the patient's own cells, there's little chance of rejection.

So far, the cuffs have been grown in the lab, where they've also been tested. Soon, however, Sarvazyan hopes to conduct animal trials, in which the cuffs are actually grown on the vein, in the body.

"We are suggesting, for the first time, to use stem cells to create, rather than just repair damaged organs," she said. "We can make a new heart outside of one’s own heart, and by placing it in the lower extremities, significantly improve venous blood flow."

Scientists at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation are also working on a treatment for chronic venous insufficiency, although their approach has been to create artificial venous valves that could be used to replace the defective natural ones.

A paper on Sarvazyan's research was recently published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics. One of the mini hearts can be seen beating away, in the video below.

Source: The George Washington University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

If they need volunteers to test these devices - put me down. I have been waiting for someone to do this!!!


Nature apparently already solved this problem by using a single robust heart with distributed valves gating the flow. If they can build these mini-pumps why not build replacement or rebuilt valves instead?


What a great idea. next they'll be banning them from athletes who want to compete.


I think they are thinking too small. Why not make the entire major leg vein(s) into a pumping solution? If someone could engeneer that into the genome it would solve a lot of issues and save lives. Just look up deep vein thrombosis that occurs in perfectly healthy people due to the inability of the existing system to cope with enforced imobility.

To answer the question of why not valves it likely is due to the complexity of building a vavle that doesn't destroy the blood cells and inserting them into the veins. Wrapping veins in muscle without killing the patient is easy. Opening a major vein and installing anything is scary.

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