Scientists in Scotland are developing patches of tissues for use in repairing damaged hearts.
The patch would help people after a heart attack
A team from Dundee University has succeeded in growing a tube of heart tissue using cells from newborn rats.
Experts are now looking at ways of growing patches of heart tissue in the laboratory, using either skeletal muscle or stem cells.
Dr Keith Baar, who is leading the team, said it could make a big difference to people who had suffered a heart attack.
He said: "Instead of waiting for someone who is a match for your cell type, we could go in and take a little bit of tissue from that individual, grow up a heart patch that would essentially be their own genetic material and put it into them.
"They would not reject it since it is working heart tissue.
"It would assist their damaged heart tissue. It would have a huge impact of being able to get them back to the point where they would probably be able to do more of their daily activities."
Dr Baar, the university's head of functional molecular biology, said that small pieces of heart tissue about 0.1mm in diameter had been developed which beat in the same way as a human heart.
They also react to stimulants such as adrenaline in the same way as a heart would.
The Dundee team hopes to build on the work of Japanese researchers who have already produced a patch of skeletal muscle and implanted it in an animal with positive results.
They are also considering transforming stem cells from bone marrow into heart cells to create a more efficient patch.
Dr Baar said: "We are taking beautiful research from Japan and we are trying to adapt it for what we do.
"What they are developing there is a couple of ways in which you could take a flat sheet of cells and make them into layers.
"We are trying to put layer on layer of cells together so that when there has been a heart attack and there is an area of dead cells we can either place this on top of that or replace the dead tissue with living cells."
Dr Baar said that without a blood supply cells would quickly die.
The team is working on making the in-between layers which would allow oxygen and nutrients to get to the cells.
The researchers hope to be able to test the patches in animals within five years and go on to have human trials after that.