A world-first technology developed by Melbourne researchers is ready for trial and could lead to heart disease patients growing "spare body parts".
Swinburne University scientists are gearing up for the trial of a radical technique that may see entire organs cultivated from just a few human cells.
First on the list are heart valves. Prof Yosry Morsi from the Swinburne University believes his team can grow heart valves and have them transplanted into humans within five years.
The breakthrough may help nearly 6000 Australians a year, revolutionizing the surgery that repaired Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's heart about 15 years ago.
According to Prof Morsi the new technique might replace the current practice of making artificial valves and "tissue" versions from humans, pigs and cows.
"We are trying to copy nature," project leader Morsi said.
"With mechanical valves and tissue valves, you need to trick the body (into accepting them)....But we'd be using a patient's own cells, so their body is not going to react to it," he added.
The key to Prof Morsi's technique, is made-to-measure "scaffolding", modeled on a patient's own heart. A cell from the patient's heart is put into the scaffolding, which is left in a machine that simulates the conditions of a human heart.
The cells multiply and grow into a replica of the original within 12 weeks. The biodegradable scaffolding breaks down as the tissue grows, leaving a new, transplantable heart valve.
"While we are creating this living tissue, we are subjecting it to exactly the sort of pressures it will be under (in the body), like the pressure of blood flow," Prof Morsi said.
The technique is to be tested on animals within a year.
Although other scientists around the world are trying hard to successfully "grow" human organs, it looks like the current research at Swinburne University is close to putting it on track for the big breakthrough.
Prof Frank Rosenfeldt, head of The Alfred's cardiac surgical research unit in Melbourne, said Prof Morsi's work could revolutionize the common but complicated operation.
"If a human heart valve can be grown using the patient's tissues, this would be a great advantage," Rosenfeldt said. "It would be a living tissue, which might even regenerate and repair itself."