Tel Aviv researchers have recently created the world’s first 3D printed heart with vascularization using a patient’s own cells and other organic materials. These findings were covered in an open access article published on April 15 in Advanced Science, and mark a major breakthrough in medicine and 3D printing.
To this point, researchers have only been able to print cardiac tissues without blood vessels. This 3D printed heart made by Tel Aviv scientists, however, was created with full vascularization.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said research leader Professor Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, who led the research for the study.
Being that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., supply of hearts for transplant is imperative. This operation is the only option of remedying patients with severe heart failure, but with a major shortage of donors, researchers are looking to tools like 3D printing to generate replacement hearts.
“This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. 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,” Dvir explained. “People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels. Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future.”
In the study, Dvir and colleagues conducted a biopsy of fatty tissue from patients. Cellular components of the sample were then separated from the non-cellular materials, and the cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells. The team then took the extracellular matrix, a network of crucial extracellular components like collagen and glycoproteins, and used it to generate a hydrogel that comprised the building blocks for the printing process.
Once mixed with the hydrogel, these pluripotent stem cells differentiated into either cardiac or endothelial cells by design to yield a product specific to the patient. This is important, being that the recipient’s immune system will reject material it perceives to be foreign. This technique created both vascularized cardiac patches and an entire heart that was roughly the size of a rabbit’s. Though this size is much smaller than the human heart, Dvir noted that generating a human heart could be done using the same technology.
“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments,” Dvir stated. “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.”
Though the artificial heart has blood vessels and the ability to contract, it still lacks the ability to functionally pump blood. The researchers hope that with further research and development, 3D printers can one day be used in generating replacement organs. Once the hearts begin behaving normally, the team plans to move on to animal trials.
“We need to develop the printed heart further,” he concluded. “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. Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely.”