Researchers at the Tel Aviv University managed to print the first ever 3D heart using the patient’s own cells, which they say could be used to patch diseased hearts or eventually be used for transplant. In the past, researchers could manage to print a heart with only simple tissues without vessels, but this time they produced an entire heart, complete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.
The findings published in a study in Advanced Science reveal that to create the 3D printed heart, scientists started with a biopsy of fatty tissue taken from patients. The cellular material from the tissues was used as the bionic ink for the printer.
To do this, they separated the cellular material from the tissues and reprogrammed it to become pluripotent stem cells. The extracellular matrix (a three-dimensional network of extracellular macromolecules such as collagen and glycoproteins) were processed into a personalised hydrogel.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” says Prof Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, who led the research for the study.
Research for the study was conducted jointly by Prof Dvir, Dr Assaf Shapira of TAU’s Faculty of Life Sciences and Nadav Moor, a doctoral student in Prof Dvir’s lab. As of now, the human heart they printed is of the size of a rabbit’s heart but the technology can eventually lead to the production of a human-sized organ.
“At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit’s heart,” explains Prof Dvir, “But larger human hearts require the same technology.”
With an aim to create functioning organs for transplant, scientists have been working on 3D-printed tissues for years. With this achievement, the researchers at Tel Aviv University theorised that organ printers could be available at hospitals as early as within 10 years.
In terms of functionality, the printed heart can only contract. However, the researchers plan on culturing the 3D printed hearts to teach them how to operate like a real one. As soon as the printed heart acts like a normal human heart, the researchers will attempt to transplant it into animal models.