In a world first, scientists have 3D printed a heart containing blood vessels, cells and chambers, using patients’ own biological material.

heart
A 3D-printed, small-scaled human heart engineered from the patient’s own materials and cells (Credit: Advanced Science. © 2019 The Authors)

The research, carried out at Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel, could have major implications for cardiology, with heart disease one of the leading causes of death worldwide. While heart structures have been 3D printed in the past, they have not contained the biological intricacy of the Tel Aviv organ, which is around the size of a rabbit’s heart. The research is published in Advanced Science.

“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said research lead Prof Tal Dvir of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

For the research, a biopsy of fatty tissue was taken from patients. The cellular and a-cellular materials of the tissue were then separated. 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 personalised hydrogel that served as the biological ink.

After being mixed with the hydrogel, the cells were efficiently differentiated to cardiac or endothelial cells to create patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire heart.

“This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials,” said Prof Dvir. “In our process, these materials serve as the bioinks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3D printing of complex tissue models.

“Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalised tissue and organ replacement in the future.”

According to Dvir, the team now plans to teach the 3D printed organs to behave like hearts, then test their functionality in animals.

“We need to develop the printed heart further,” he said. “The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together. Our hope is that we will succeed and prove our method’s efficacy and usefulness.

“Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely.”

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