Scientists at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel have created the first ever 3D printed heart using human tissue and the patient's own cells.
The experiment, hailed as “a major medical breakthrough”, marks a step forward for 3D printing for the medical industry. Previously, only parts of heart tissue have been able to be printed, however, on this occasion researchers have succeeded in printing a vascular heart using the patient’s own biological materials. Although the printed heart is only approximately the size of that of a rabbit, it features chambers and blood vessels the same as a full-sized human heart.
Lead researcher, Tal Dvir said that while other scientists have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, this is the first time anyone has printed an entire heart “replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.”
“Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future,” Dvir said in a press statement.
The team outlined the process and explained how they used fatty tissues taken from the patient and created the heart. The cells were then reprogrammed into stem cells and the remaining extracellular material, such collagen, was processed into a hydrogel and used as printer “ink”. The result was a tiny heart with the same cellular, immunological and biochemical makeup of the patient - meaning the risk of the implant being rejected by the patient's body is eliminated.
“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments,” said Dvir.
The team hopes to carry on the research and create more organs with the ability to pump effectively, and hope to eventually start testing the hearts in animal models.
“Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” Dvir said.
The scientists will also need to determine how to expand the cells to create a larger human-sized heart as well as how to print the heart's miniscule capillaries.