'First' 3D print of heart with human tissue, vessels unveiled

Grant Boone
April 16, 2019

"This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart complete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers", Dvir said.

The heart scientists printed couldn't be used in a human transplant operation. While the cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem 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 next step for the researchers is to culture the printed hearts in a laboratory and "teach them" to behave like hearts.

University of Tel Aviv's Tal Dvir presents his team's 3D-printed heart. Heart transplantation is now the only treatment available to patients with end-stage heart failure.

The differentiated cells were then mixed with the bio-inks and were used to 3D-print patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire heart.

"It's completely biocompatible and matches the patient", reducing the chances of rejection inside the body, said Tal Dvir, the professor who directed the project.

In a demonstrative sense, ETH Zurich's silicone heart is a good example of how 3D printing can create accurate anatomical replicas, as is the work at Phoenix Children's Hospital, Arizona.

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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.

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.

3D printed construction of a miniature heart model.

"But larger human hearts require the same technology", Dvir said.

As stated in the abstract of the study, "These results demonstrate the potential of the approach for engineering personalized tissues and organs, or for drug screening in an appropriate anatomical structure and patient‐specific biochemical microenvironment". The cells are now able to contract, but do not yet have the ability to pump. The use of "native" human material was imperative to the successful creation of the tissues and organs, the team said.

"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments", Dvir said. Our hope is that we will succeed and prove our method's efficacy and usefulness. Inside sat a small heart the size and colour of several pencil erasers.

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