Ronald Li says that when a light bulb blows you can replace it with a new lightbulb and come back to basically the same state. The human heart, however, can have a myocardial infarction and then will degrade over time. The big idea that Li presents in his Solve For X talk Make Hearts, Save Hearts is that if we stop the heart from degradation lives can be saved and hearts will not need to be replaced.

Li further says that cardiotoxicity is a major roadblock in developing new drugs to fight problems like cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal diseases and inflammatory diseases. There are not current tests for cardiotoxicity that are reliable because current methods use non-cardiac and non-human models. Drug companies spend millions of dollars and years to develop drugs but when cardiotoxicity models are 80% unreliable Li says that using animal models is not giving adequate results.

His solution is to use stem cells to create personalized human heart tissue within weeks. Ronald first wants to use his “heart in a jar” models for drug testing. Taking individual patient blood samples and developing his test hearts will allow drug companies to develop new drugs quicker and more efficiently. Further, genetic diversity can be designed into new drugs and treatments to see how different groups respond to different drugs.  Long term he hopes that human heart grafts can be built to aid in transplant therapy and lessen the impact of long waits for organ donors.

The bigger picture of this already big idea is the construction of a large bank of human heart tissue and grafts. Ideally a blood sample can be taken from a patient one time and continue to be used without ever needing a second sample.

It’s always inspiring for me when an engineer can show us a two minute video that captures a decade of their life’s work, and explain it with passion in relatable terms. This technology is incredible and already developed. Li and his team at Novoheart are currently seeking funding to take the heart project to a larger scale.


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