‘Major Breakthrough’: Scientists Develop First 3D-Printed, Fully Functional Human Heart

The scientific community has achieved what is being described as a major breakthrough when a team of scientists from the University of Tel Aviv in Israel created a three-dimensional, fully vascularized human heart, ABC News reports.

According to the report, Dr. Tal Dvir, a study researcher and professor of molecular cell biology at Tel Aviv University, said the 3D-printed heart has the same “immunological, cellular, biochemical, and anatomical properties” of the patient they formed the heart from.

The heart itself is made from a combination of human cells and “patient-specific biological materials,” Dr. Dvir said.

“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,” Dr. Dvir continued, via Fox News. “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.”

Dr. Dvir added: “This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers.”

Here’s more from Fox News:

To create the 3-D printed heart, fatty tissue was taken from patients, which was separated into cellular and a-cellular materials. The cells were “reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem 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 printing ‘ink,'” according to the statement.

Once they were mixed with the hydrogel, they were separated to cardiac and endothelial cells to create patient-specific cardiac patches (a step Dvir says is “crucial”) along with their own blood vessels.

“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments,” Dvir added. “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.”

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Although the heart was made with human cells and “and patient-specific biological materials,” it’s still too small to be used for an organ transplant, as it is only the size of a rabbit’s heart, at just a few grams. For comparison purposes, the average size of an adult heart is between 250 and 350 grams and is often described as the size of a fist.

And, from ABC News:

Though it is still in the early stages of development, this invention represents a breakthrough for transplant medicine, as it may impact the lives of thousands of patients who await heart transplants for end-stage heart failure each year. A number of these patients will die while on the waiting list.

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. CHF symptoms range from extreme shortness of breath to leg swelling and unintentional weight gain. These patients are at higher risk from sudden death relating to dangerous heart rhythms.

As such, CHF patients are frequently in-and-out of the hospital, require life-saving procedures to prevent dangerous heart rhythm, and suffer from a poor quality of life. Heart transplantation is oftentimes the only way to improve their quality of life and extend survival. Given the number of patients suffering from CHF each year, and its high healthcare costs, the study’s researchers were determined to “develop new approaches to regenerate the infarcted heart.”

Fox News reports the discovery “could change medicine forever.”