In a first for Irish science, researchers in Galway working with clinicians at Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin have created synchronised beating heart cells from stem cells in the laboratory.
It is hoped that the development could in time help contribute to the development of treatments for cardiac conditions, like heart failure, arrhythmia and the risk of sudden cardiac death in children.
The heart cells were made from induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs) derived from skin biopsies.
IPSCs are adult cells which are reprogrammed to convert them into a status where they can develop into all of the different types of cells that make up the body - known as pluripotency.
They offer huge potential for research as they allow scientists to replicate the unique genetic blueprint of a donor's cells and then study them in the lab.
In particular, scientists use the cells to study how diseases work, to test potential new drugs and in future it's hoped they could be used for transplantation as well.
Scientists at the Regenerative Medicine Institute or REMEDI at NUI Galway took cells from skin biopsies, and converted them into IPSCSs, before then growing them in a medium designed to encourage them to develop into cardiac cells.
The researchers, led by Professor Sanbing Shen, replicated a technique previously used by scientists outside the country to grow heart cells.
However, it is the first time that the process has successfully resulted in heart cells being produced from IPSCs in Ireland.
The centre will now use the technique to compare the heart cells of members of the same family where one person has heart disease and the others don't.
In order to carry out this research it is seeking volunteers, ideally siblings, who have inherited rhythm disease known as Long QT Syndrome to participate.
Around a year and a half ago, the REMEDI team produced brain cells in the lab from stem cells using a similar technique.
In January 2014 REMEDI became the first facility in Ireland to receive regulatory approval to begin manufacturing stem cells for adult use.
Seed funding for this pilot study of the development of the heart cells came from a grant from the National Children's Research Centre, which is supported by donations from the Children's Medical Research Foundation.
The study was initiated by Professor Timothy O'Brien, Director of REMEDI at NUI Galway and Dr Terence Prendiville from the Department of Paediatric Cardiology in Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin.
In March, scientists in the US revealed that they had drawn closer to the ultimate goal of growing an entire human heart in the lab using IPSCs.