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World’s 1st 3D-printed heart with ‘cells, blood vessels’ unveiled in Israel

16 April 2019

As stated in the abstract of the study, "These results demonstrate the potential of the approach for engineering personalized tissues and organs, or for drug screening in an appropriate anatomical structure and patient‐specific biochemical microenvironment".

The heart produced by researchers at Tel Aviv University is about the size of a rabbit's and is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.

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. Tal Dvir of TAU's School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology as cited by The Jerusalem Post.

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The proof-of-concept feat could pave the way for a new type of organ transplant.

But the scientists said many challenges remain before fully working 3D printed hearts will be available for transplant into patients. But there is a lack of heart donors.

The process consists of three stages: the target organ is scanned via MRI, it is then printed using patient-specific bioinks, "substances made of sugars and proteins", made of their own cells after which the organ is then matured it in a suitable laboratory or host environment.

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"But larger human hearts require the same technology".

The Israeli team's findings were published on Monday in Advanced Science, a peer reviewed, open access journal. While the cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells and efficiently differentiated to cardiac or endothelial cells, the extracellular matrix (ECM), a three-dimensional network of extracellular macromolecules, such as collagen and glycoproteins, were processed into a personalized hydrogel that served as the printing "ink". The 3D printing process takes around 3-4 hours.

"It's completely biocompatible and matches the patient", reducing the chances of rejection inside the body, said Tal Dvir, the professor who directed the project. Dvir says. "Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient's own tissues". Currently, the cells can contract but do not work together.

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While it's not clear a printer can produce hearts that are superior to human ones, "perhaps by printing patches we can improve or take out diseased areas in the heart and replace them with something that works" perfectly, he said. The printed hearts could be tested on animals but there's no timetable for testing hearts on humans, he said.

World’s 1st 3D-printed heart with ‘cells, blood vessels’ unveiled in Israel