Scientists make world's first 3D-printed heart with human tissue

A tiny heart is made in a 3D printer in a process developed by Tel Aviv University scientists

Describing their work in Advanced Science, the research team started by taking biopsies of fatty tissues from abdominal structures known as the omentum in both humans and pigs.

Previously, only simple tissues - without the blood vessels they need to live and function - had been printed, according to a press release from the university.

"But larger human hearts require the same technology".

A 3D printer prints what Israeli scientist Professor Tal Dvir says is the world's first 3D-printed vascularized engineered heart, in a laboratory at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 15, 2019. Given the dire shortage of heart donors, the need to develop new approaches to regenerate the diseased heart is urgent. It should be noted that the heart isn't very big - it's only about the size of a rabbit's heart. The cells were reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells, while the extracellular matrix of collagen, sugars and proteins were processed into a personalized hydrogel.

The cells need to mature for another month or so and then should be able to beat and contract, Dvir said. The cellular material from the tissues was used as the "ink" for the print job.

"This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials", said Dvir, a researcher at the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

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After being mixed with the hydrogel, the cells were efficiently differentiated to cardiac or endothelial cells to create patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire heart.

With that said, while the heart is now too small for a human as it's more appropriately sized for a rabbit, the process used to create it shows a potential for one day being able to 3D print patches and maybe full transplants.

While the 3D-printed heart is about the size of a rabbit's heart, the same technology can be used to print a normal-sized one, he said. The cellular and a-cellular materials of the tissue were then separated.

According to Prof. Dvir, the use of "native" patient-specific materials is crucial to successfully engineering tissues and organs. Five years ago, Indian plastic surgeons at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (Jipmer) in Puducherry restored the deformed skull of a three-year-old girl to its original shape with the help of a 3D printer.

But it's a groundbreaking step toward engineering customized organs that can be transplanted with less risk of rejection. Dvir says. "Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient's own tissues".

They plan to transplant them into animal models, hopefully in about a year, said Dvir. Tal Dvir's laboratory in Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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