“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said the paper’s senior author, Professor Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University. The research was published earlier this month in the journal Advanced Science.
Researchers separated out cells from a biopsy of the fatty tissue around the abdominal organs, and reprogrammed them into pluripotent stem cells, which could then grow into heart cells. The extracellular matrix that connects the cells in the fatty tissue was used create a hydrogel that formed the “ink” used in the 3D printing. Once mixed with the hydrogel, the cells formed either cardiac or endothelial cells to create blood vessels, and ultimately an entire heart, that was compatible with the patient’s immune system.
“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments,” according to Dvir. “Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient’s own tissues. Here, we can report a simple approach to 3D-printed thick, vascularized and perfusable cardiac tissues that completely match the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient.”
Dvir explained that other researchers have used 3D-printing to create the structure of a heart, but not cells or blood vessels, and the new development shows the potential to engineer personalized tissue for replacing organs.
The researchers created a small heart from the cells, about the size of a rabbit’s. Next, the researchers will work to train the heart to function like a real one.
“The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together,” said Dvir.
If they succeed, the next step will be to transplant a 3D printed heart into an animal. Only then would the researchers begin to investigate the possibility of transplanting a heart into a human.
According to Dvir:
“Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely.”