Published: Tue, April 16, 2019
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Scientists print world's first 3D heart using patient's own cells

Scientists print world's first 3D heart using patient's own cells

Well, not anymore, say the scientists who have fabricated the world's first human heart with blood vessels.

But while the current 3D print was a primitive one and only the size of a rabbit's heart, "larger human hearts require the same technology", said Dvir.

Journalists were shown a 3D print of a heart about the size of a cherry, immersed in liquid, at Tel Aviv University on Monday as the researchers announced their findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Science.

The researchers noted that heart transplants are the only form of treatment for people with end-stage heart failure and that many sick people die while waiting for a transplant, which can take six months or more. While the cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells and efficiently differentiated to cardiac or endothelial cells, the extracellular matrix (ECM), a three-dimensional network of extracellular macromolecules, such as collagen and glycoproteins, were processed into a personalized hydrogel that served as the printing "ink".

"The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can now contract, but we need them to work together", Dvir explained.

Until now, 3D printing has only been used to produce simple tissues without blood vessels, including making the structure of a heart but without the necessary vascular elements to make it actually pump.


With that said, while the heart is now too small for a human as it's more appropriately sized for a rabbit, the process used to create it shows a potential for one day being able to 3D print patches and maybe full transplants. For instance, a team of researchers at ETH Zurich created a 3D printed artificial heart back in 2017, but rather than using human tissue, those researchers used a flexible material.

But it's the first to be printed with all blood vessels, ventricles and chambers, using an ink made from the patient's own biological materials. The cellular and a-cellular materials of the tissue were then separated. That allowed researchers to create complex tissue models including cardiac patches and eventually an entire heart.

According to Prof. Dvir, the use of "native" patient-specific materials is crucial to successfully engineering tissues and organs. As it continues to be redesigned to better reflect human anatomy, scientists are intrigued by the potential for 3D heart printing to become a widespread, life-saving technique in medical centers around the world.

The next step, they said, is to teach the hearts to behave like human hearts.

"We need to develop the printed heart further", he concludes. Tal Dvir's laboratory in Tel Aviv University April 15, 2019, Israel.

However, the ultimate goal is to have "organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely" within the next 10 years, Dvir says.

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