Scientists Just 3D-Printed the World’s First Heart Using Human Cells
Scientists in Israel announced today that they 3D-printed the world’s first heart with cells and blood vessels, a breakthrough they believe could mean shorter waiting lists for heart transplant patients and a future where organ printers become commonplace in major hospitals.
While previous researchers have 3D-printed hearts, those versions lacked blood vessels. For the first time, a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University created a “printed” heart using human cells.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” lead author Professor Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology said.
A 2018 report by The American Heart Association estimates that heart disease accounts for 1 out of 3 deaths in the United States, making it the leading cause of death. Today, heart transplants are the only option for those experiencing advanced heart failure, so the development could mean more availability for those waiting for a new heart.
To develop the heart, scientists took a biopsy of patients’ fatty tissue. Then, they used cellular materials in the tissue, reprogramming them to become immature stem cells and differentiating them into cardiac muscle cells or cells that are located inside the lining of blood vessels and the heart. The extracellular matrix, which affects how tissue behaves and contains various proteins, was used as a “hydrogel,” or the “ink” for the printer. After the cells were combined with ink, the researchers formed cardiac patches — that can be used to repair a heart — and then, a complete heart.
“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,” Professor Dvir said. “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.”
Dvir notes that although the heart is similar to a rabbit’s in size, bigger human hearts will need the same technology. He said using patients’ “native” materials and cells helped them form tissues and organs in the “printed” heart.
“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,” he said.
Next, Dvir’s team will work on instructing the printed hearts they develop on how to act like hearts. In other words, the cells in the 3D hearts need to become better at working together to pump properly. Then, the researchers will transplant the hearts into animal models.
“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.