Scientists were also able to develop the methods and software to measure the frequency, amplitude, force of contractions, and its responses to drugs.
This breakthrough also enables them to manipulate the cardiac tissue to make it behave like a diseased heart so that they can further research life-threatening conditions impacting the organ as well as its response to certain drugs.
Instead of relying on the spontaneous pulse of a developing fetal heart, Dr Vunjak-Novakovic and her colleagues used a special method of electromechanical conditioning in which they increased the frequency of electrically induced contractions little by little every day.
Researchers believe this practice forced the bioengineered heart to mature rapidly.
Within four weeks, the stem cells had taken on the shape of adult heart cells, and were starting to function like them, too.
Dr Vunjak-Novakovic and her team aren’t the only ones using stem cells to research, treat and cure diseases.
Earlier this year, doctors have declared that stem cell transplants are a ‘game changer’ for millions of people suffering from multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord, after a 100 patients trial done at Northwestern University showed that the method was able to stop the debilitating disease in its tracks
In the current study, Vunjak-Novakovic’s team plan to use the mature human heart muscle to mimic the observable characteristics of some heart conditions to get a better understanding of cardiac disease and cardiotoxicity induced by drugs used to treat other organ systems.
‘The resulting engineered tissue is truly unprecedented in its similarity to functioning human tissue,’ said Seila Selimovic, director of the NIBIB (National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering) Tissue Chips program, within the National Institutes of Health that funded this research.
‘The ability to develop mature cardiac tissue in such a short time is an important step in moving us closer to having reliable human tissue models for drug testing.’