The pioneering work could open up exciting new frontiers in biotechnology and 3D printing.
The 3D printed heart is made from human tissue and was produced by scientists at Tel Aviv University. It has all the anatomical properties of a real human heart.
It is believed to be the first time a heart has been constructed using a 3D printer that has all the cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers in place.
— CNET (@CNET) April 16, 2019
How the 3D printed heart would work
The exciting work, published in Advanced Science on 15 April, began with a biopsy of ornamental tissue from patients.
This tissue was then used to create more complex models to replicate cardiac patches and eventually a whole organ.
The current model is only the size of a rabbit’s heart. The scientists believe, however, that it is an important step towards eventually producing 3D printed organs that can be transplanted into humans. Further research will see the lab culture the 3D printed hearts and refine them so they can operate in a circulatory system; currently the 3D printed version can contract but not pump blood out.
Once this work is complete, the plan is to transplant the 3D printed hearts into animals for the next stage of testing.
The 3D printed organ would incorporate biomaterials which would work as “temporary scaffolds” to support cells and allow them to reintegrate as functional tissue. In vitro maturation can then be used to integrate the cardiac patch onto the human heart. The biomaterials would eventually decompose, leaving just a functional patch that helps the organ regenerate.
Professor Tal Dvir, who led the lab team, told reporters it was a real breakthrough.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” he said.
“People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels.”
Researchers Just 3D Printed The First-Ever Complete Heart Using Human Tissue https://t.co/q1JdcOPg9k
— ScienceAlert (@ScienceAlert) April 16, 2019
Researchers hope hospitals may be printing their own hearts in just 10 years
The tiny heart the lab has just produced is the culmination of years of work towards creating artificial functioning organs. The researchers involved in the project believe that hospitals may have onsite technology allowing them to produce their own organs within a decade.
Advances in biotechnology around heart health could have massive implications for global mortality rates. Per figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), more people die from cardiovascular diseases than from any other cause.
For end-stage cardiac failure, the only option at present is organ transplantation. This option is highly complicated and relies on cardiac donors. With this in mind, the researchers have noted “there is a need to develop new approaches to regenerate the infected heart”. They believe cardiac tissue engineering could ultimately provide this solution.
3D printing has previously been in the news for less wholesome reasons; there was recently a protracted legal controversy over whether a Texan man could distribute blueprints for 3D printed guns.
Advocates of the technology say it could be used for humanitarian and health ends. In 2014, 3D printed parts were used to help reconstruct the face of a man badly injured in a road accident. Doctors have also used 3D printers to create a lower jaw for a woman with a chronic bone infection.