Organ failure is placing enormous burdens on our health care systems yet the medical capacity to treat disease is frustrated by the limited availability of donated organs. Many could benefit from a transplant were there an unlimited supply of organs and no waiting lists for a transplant. Perhaps more importantly, the population is aging rapidly leading to a substantial increase in the demand for technologies that will improve morbidity, mortality and productivity.
Tissue Engineering (or the newer term Regenerative Medicine) uses cells, soluble and matrix bound factors and supporting structures to regenerate damaged tissue/organ structures and function. Critical issues to tissue engineering a heart include providing a vasculature or an equivalent means of delivering nutrients to thick sections of tissue, and growing functional cardiomyocytes (perhaps from stem cells) with normal electrical conduction pathways. To grow a heart all the components must be built as well so that the spin-off benefits of growing hearts - patches, valves and vessels, etc - may be even more valuable than the heart itself and it is these that will have most impact on aging.
One ultimate goal is to address the problem of organ failure by creating an unlimited supply of organs and complex tissues for the purpose of transplantation and organ repair. With an unlimited supply of vital organs, replacing a damaged or failed organ becomes not substantially different than any medical device. To realise this vision, we have proposed national and international collaborative efforts (e.g. the LIFE initiative) to focus on the three R's of regenerative medicine: replace, repair or regenerate.