Scientists at Tel Aviv University have printed the world’s first 3D heart made of human tissue and biological molecules.
Using tissues from the patient to make a personalized “ink,” a specialized printer was used to produce a working, pumping human heart complete with blood vessels. Because the engineered heart is made of the patient’s own tissues, transplanting the printed organ should keep the autoimmune system from rejecting the new heart.
The groundbreaking technology could potentially provide replacements for any organ in the human body. The extraordinary innovation was reported by scientists Prof. Tal Dvir and Dr. Assaf Shapira of Tel-Aviv University.
In a post-printing stage, the artificial biological heart is cultivated in the lab and “taught” to behave like a normal heart. Once the cells develop and the heart “learns” to pump blood through the vessels, the 3D-printed heart, which is about the size of a rabbit’s heart, will be transplanted into an animal to test its ability to function as a real heart.
“Printing a human-size heart involves basically the same technology,” Prof. Dvir pointed out. “However, we need to develop the printed heart further,” he said. “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.”
It will probably take years before the new technology can produce living organs for transplant into human bodies. However, the achievement by the Israeli scientists is a huge step forward in organ transplant innovation. To be able to print living tissues and produce a three-dimensional organ with working blood vessels demonstrates a major step forward in medical science.
In the past, scientists have printed cartilage and other tissues using the technology, but have not found a way to create the working blood vessels necessary to keep an artificial organ alive and functioning once transplanted into a human body.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart complete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” Prof. Dvir said. The Tel Aviv scientists took fatty tissue taken from patients and reprogrammed the cells to begin learning how to function as cardiac cells and blood vessel cells that know how to circulate blood through the cardiac system. Once the cells were retrained, the scientists produced a “personalized hydrogel that served as the printing ink,” Dvir explained.
Dvir said that he hopes the new technology will soon allow doctors to print organs and tissues for patients using their own tissues and bring relief to people around the world suffering from a wide variety of diseases.