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In a research laboratory at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital on Tuesday morning journalists were able to see beating human heart tissue cells that had been grown from stem cells.

In the future, patients suffering heart attacks, strokes, or other types of heart disease will receive new heart cells grown from stem cells which could then grow inside their diseased hearts, replacing the damaged sections.

Today that is realistic only in theory.

As for tomorrow, courtesy of a $1.3 million state government research grant to the Prince Charles Hospital’s Critical Care Research Group, it could be a working reality in 10 to 15 years.

Dr Nathan Palpant works for the University of Queensland’s Institute of Molecular BioScience, where he is part of an international team inventing the next generation of replacement heart organs.

Rather than being mechanical, these organs would be grown from stem cells, he explained.

“We can take human stem cells that have the potential to make any cell type in the body,” Dr Palpant said.

“It can be your pancreas, your heart or your brain and we can give them specific cues to guide them down the pathway to make heart tissue,” he said.

“So we can make them to regenerate the heart, we can also study diseases that occur during development.

“And we can go through this process many, many times to create millions or even billions of these cells that can be used for the experimental applications.”

Is it possible to grow a heart?

“In theory, yes,” Dr Halpant said.

“It is, of course, quite a bit more complicated because there are not only those types of cells in the heart and there is also the structure of the heart,” he said.

A new heart would need billions of cells.

However, using an existing heart meant medical research worked faster, Dr Palpant said.

“We can use an existing heart as a way of being able to introduce new muscle.”

Clinical trials in the United States, in Europe and now in Queensland will progress over the next decade.

One person looking on in wonder was Gold Coast developer Tony Stephens, now 38, who received an artificial heart at the Price Charles Hospital six years ago.

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