Though the heart is much smaller than a human's (it's only the size of a rabbit's), and there's still a long way to go until it functions like a normal heart, the proof-of-concept experiment could eventually lead to personalized organs or tissues that could be used in the human body, according to a study published Monday (April 15) in the journal Advanced Science.
"This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers", Professor Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University's School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology said in a statement.
"Of course, if we would need to fabricate a larger heart, it would be expensive, it would take much more time to print and much more material would need to be extracted from the patient", Shapira said. 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.
"People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels", he continued.
Dvir also explained that using the patient's own cells is key to engineering the tissues and organs. In order for the heart to pump blood efficiently through the body, its cells need to beat in unison - something that the 3D-printed heart hasn't done yet.
Using a bio-ink gel derived from fatty tissue "reprogrammed" as stem cells, they 3D-printed a tiny, thumb-size heart in three hours.
"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments", he said. "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 cardiac tissues that completely match the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient". Dvir sees a future where 3D-printed hearts and organs are commonplace. Dvir told theTimes of Israel that researchers are now tasked with teaching the heart how to "behave" like a real heart.
A 3D print of heart with human tissue.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States.
"It was expected for a while that in a few years we will be able to 3D-print fully functional human hearts, which can replace our faulty ones", Radacsi told Newsweek.
"The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can now contract, but we need them to work together".
"Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely", Dvir said.