A team of investigators at Tel Aviv University on Monday unveiled a 3D-printed heart made of human tissue collected from a patient, a breakthrough that scientists hope will help open new horizons in cardiology and heart transplants.
Previously, scientists had only managed to print such body parts with simple tissues and without complicated biological structures like 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," Professor Tal Dvir, the lead researcher in the project, told Efe.
"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," Prof. Dvir added.
The research was conducted by Prof. Dvir, Dr. Assaf Shapira from the university's Faculty of Life Sciences and Nadav Moor, a doctoral student working with Dvir.
Currently, the 3D heart is about the size of a rabbit's heart, but a human-size heart would require the same kind of technology.
Scientists collected fatty tissue biopsies from patients, which were differentiated and processed to create the bioink used by the printer.
This way, the biological material used would theoretically match that of the cell donor, meaning any transplant would not be rejected by the patient's immune system.
"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments," Prof. Dvir 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-print thick, vascularized and perfusable cardiac tissues that completely match the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient," he said.
Scientists will now focus on further developing this research.
"We need to develop the printed heart further, 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," he concluded.