For the first time, scientists engineer a 3D printed heart using a patient's own cells, which means the resulting organ is a perfect match for the patient.
If successful in developing a sure-fire way to "personalize" a 3D printed organ to a patient, this technology could pave the way to hospitals no longer relying on donors to save terminal patients.
The First Complete 3D Printed Heart
In a new study published in the journal Advanced Science, scientists from the Tel Aviv University share details of their groundbreaking achievement in printing a small 3D heart.
Previous efforts by regenerative medicine experts have only been able to print small tissues with no blood vessels. On the other hand, this new 3D printed heart is complete with blood vessels, cells, ventricles, and chambers.
"This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials," Tal Dvir, lead researcher and professor at TAU, explains in a statement from the university. "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."
To print the heart, the researchers first collected a biopsy of fatty tissue from patients and split the cellular and a-cellular materials of this tissue. The cells were reprogrammed to be the pluripotent stem cells, while the extracellular matrix were processed into the "ink" made from personalized hydrogel.
The cells were mixed with this hydrogel, then classified into cardiac or endothelial cells to produce cardiac patches with blood vessels. Ultimately, the process builds an entire heart perfectly matched to the immunological, cellular, biochemical, and anatomical properties of the specific patient.
"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments," Dvir explains. The biomaterial, he says, should have similar biochemical, mechanical, and topographical properties of the tissues from the patient.
Transplants Are Still Some Time Away
While the technology is sound, applying it to an actual human transplant will take some time.
For now, the 3D heart printed by the team is roughly the size of a rabbit's heart. Even before transplanting these into animal bodies, the researchers plan to culture the hearts in the laboratory and taught to function as organs.
"The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together," Dviv says, adding that the team hopes their efforts are successful and prove that their technology is sound and useful.
In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death, responsible for 630,000 deaths every year, according to the CDC. This is equivalent to one in every four deaths.
For patients with end-stage heart failure, heart transplant is the only option. However, a good chunk of patients do not have access to organs.
Every day, there are 75,000 people on the active waiting list for organs, says CDC. Organ donors are limited with only 8,000 deceased organ donors every year with an average of 3.5 organs each. Living organ donors average only 6,000 organs every year.