In a major medical breakthrough, Tel Aviv University researchers have 3D printed the world’s first 3D vascularised engineered heart using a patient’s own cells and biological materials.
“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. Tal Dvir of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, who led the research for the study.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. Heart transplantation is currently the only treatment available to patients with end-stage heart failure. Given the dire shortage of heart donors, the need to develop new approaches to regenerate the diseased heart is urgent.
The process involved taking fatty tissue, after which the cellular and a-cellular materials were then separated. 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 3D printing “filament,” Tel Aviv University said in a statement.
The differentiated cells were then mixed with the bio-inks and were used to 3D print patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire, tiny heart.
Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In 2016 alone, an estimated 17.9 million people died from heart diseases, a majority due to heart attack and stroke.
Heart transplantation is currently the only treatment available to patients with end-stage heart failure. And with a shortage of heart donors, this scientific breakthrough development may blaze a trail in the medical world, paving the way for a potential revolution in organ and tissue transplantation.
Prof. Tal Dvir says:
“This 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. 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.”
“At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit’s heart. But larger human hearts require the same technology.”
The researchers are now planning on culturing the printed hearts in the lab and “teaching them to behave” like hearts, Prof. Dvir says. They then plan to transplant the 3D-printed heart in animal models. And he also says:
“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.”
“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments. 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.”
But there are also significant hurdles. First is the cost. Professor Dvir says the printing process for the heart cost “a few thousand shekels” in a lab environment, but should the technology be commercialized in the future, it will likely be expensive.
“We must take into consideration that 3D printing technology is also developing. Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely.”