The world’s first complete 3D printer-generated heart, made using the patient’s own cells and materials, has been created in a lab.
Until now, success has been limited to printing only simple tissues without blood vessels.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said team leader Tal Dvir.
What if hospitals could simply print out a new heart?
That’s the tantalizing promise that Tel Aviv University researchers made this week with the announcement that they had successfully used a 3D bio-printer to create a heart complete with human tissue and blood vessels.
While the university called it a “major medical breakthrough” that advances the possibilities for transplants, this 3D-printed heart still has some thumping limitations.
Dvir noted that scientists have managed to print a 3D structure of a heart before, but not with cells or blood vessels. “Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future,” he said in a university news release.
The research was published online April 15 in the journal Advanced Science.
This is not the first heart to be 3D printed, but never before has it resulted in an organ “with cells or with blood vessels,” said Tal Dvir, who led the project at Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology.
Dvir said the researchers’ next steps would be to transplant a 3D-printed heart into an animal model. Their aim is for that to happen sometime in the next year.
“Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” Dvir added, although he expected hospitals would likely start with simpler organs than hearts.
That means there’s an urgent need to develop new ways to regenerate a diseased heart, according to the researchers.
The use of biological materials from a patient is key to successful engineering of tissues and organs, Dvir explained. The compatibility of engineered materials is key to eliminating rejection risk
“Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient’s own tissues,” Dvir noted. “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.”
“We need to develop the printed heart further,” Dvir 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.”
In that way, 3D-printed hearts – and ultimately many other types of human organs – would essentially be customized to the specific patient.