Israeli researchers unveil 3D printed heart created from patient cells

Grant Boone
April 20, 2019

The medical breakthrough, which was published today in Advanced Science, managed to produce an entire heart, complete with human cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers - a marked improvement over previous attempts that only printed simple tissues without vessels.

The approach taken by the researchers from Tel Aviv University was within the field of cardiac tissue engineering, where there is growing interest with this alternative approach which involves integrating cardiac cells and 3D biomaterials.

Using genetic engineering, the scientists then tweaked the various components, reprogramming some of the cells to become cardiac muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, and some to become cells that generate blood vessels.

A large focus was placed on compatibility, and the resulting heart featured patient-specific tissue which means that it will not trigger a response from the immune system of the patient. Many patients' bodies reject the transplant, leaving them with life-threatening consequences.

In the first, researchers have a heart 3D printed utilizing the human tissue. The next step in their research would be transplanting 3D-printed hearts in animals.

Incidentally, Professor Tal Dvir is also the senior author of the said research. "At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit's heart", Dvir said. There is more work to do first, however; while the cells of the heart are now able to contract, they do not yet have the ability to pump. Another challenge is figuring out how to print the tiny capillaries found in the heart.

As per sources with the knowledge of the development, the 3D printing process involved the biopsy of the fatty tissue surrounding the abdominal organs. Previously, researchers were able to print just the artificial heart.

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Although the pink and blue hearts look real, they do not yet have the ability to pump blood.

Calling it a "major breakthrough", scientists say they hope the technology could produce hearts suitable for transplant into humans as well as patches to fix or regenerate defective hearts.

According to official statistics, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the case of American citizens, male and female alike.

He added that it may be possible "in the next 10 years that there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely".

"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardises the success of such treatments", said Dvir.

And that is still good news that offer a sliver of hope to the patients, considering that heart transplants are the only option for the people who live with heart and circulatory diseases, many of which will die while their names are still on the waiting list.

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