In what could be a major medical breakthrough, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have ‘printed’ the world’s first 3D engineered heart with blood vessels using a patient’s own cells and biological materials.
Until now, scientists have been successful in printing only simple tissues without blood vessels. The fact that the scientists were able to successfully engineer and 3D print an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers, is a remarkable achievement.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in many countries and heart transplantation is currently the only treatment available to patients with end-stage heart failure. Given the dire shortage of heart donors, the need to develop new approaches to regenerate the diseased heart is urgent.
The 3-D heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials that serve as ‘bio-inks’. These materials made of sugars and proteins can be used for 3D printing of complex tissue models. The new heart demonstrates the potential to engineer personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future, said the researchers.
For the research, a biopsy of fatty tissue was taken from patients. The cellular and extracellular materials of the tissue were then separated. 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’.
Meanwhile, the cellular material was reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem that were mixed with the hydrogel and efficiently differentiated into cardiac or endothelial cells to create patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire heart.
The immune compatibility of the engineered material was crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection. But since the printed material matches the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient there was no rejection of the implant. The researchers are now planning on culturing the printed hearts in the lab and “teaching them to behave” like hearts, before transplanting the 3D printed heart in animal models.