"People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels". For instance, a team of researchers at ETH Zurich created a 3D printed artificial heart back in 2017, but rather than using human tissue, those researchers used a flexible material.
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".
"This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers", says Prof.
The proof-of-concept feat could pave the way for a new type of organ transplant.
This latest invention represents a major turning point for patients with congestive heart failure (CHF), as heart transplantation is the only definitive treatment for patients in the end-stages of the disease. But there is a lack of heart donors.
He added that the heart is made from human cells, and "patient-specific biological materials". "In our process, these materials serve as the bio-inks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3D printing of complex tissue models".
He showed a 3D print of a heart with visible vessels; the miniature heart measured less than 3 centimetres in size. (Noor et al., Advanced Science, 2019).
The research team revealed in the findings, published in the journal Advanced Science, that they took a biopsy of fatty tissue from patients, reprogramming their cells and processing extracellular molecules into a personalised hydrogel. Scientists mixed the differentiated cells to form bioinks, which were layered onto scaffolding using a specialized 3D printer to form a small heart.
"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments", said Dvir.
"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.
Until now, researchers have only been able to 3D-print simple tissues lacking blood vessels. Although the hearts will need more work before they can pump blood, the scientists hope to begin animal trials within a year.
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.
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