In a medical groundbreaking discovery, Tel Aviv University scientists have successfully managed to print a 3D vascularised engineered heart using a patient’s own cells and biological matter.
Prior to this breakthrough, scientists studying regenerative medicine have only been able to build synthetic hearts and bio-engineered tissues – in other words, simple tissues without blood vessels. This discovery constitutes the first 3D printing of a complex organ ever.
Regarding this major accomplishment, lead researcher Tal Dvir, a material scientist and professor of molecular cell biology at TAU, said: “This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. This has been the case for the last 15 years. According to data, of the 56.9 million deaths worldwide in 2016, Ischaemic heart disease and stroke were the world’s leading causes of death– leading to 15.2 million deaths globally. Their prevalence suggests the significance of researching suitable therapies.
However, the only treatment available for patients with end-stage heart failure is an organ transplant, but there aren’t enough organs available. Healthcare systems such as the NHS in the UK and the United Network for Organ Sharing in the US face never-ending transplant lists and a lack of eligible donors.
This new technology could prove to be a potential solution for organ shortages. Regarding the lack of organ donors and the benefits of this technology, Dr. Dvir added: “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 personalised tissue and organ replacement in the future… 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.”
“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardises the success of such treatments,” Prof. Dvir says. “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, vascularised and perfusable cardiac tissues that completely match the immunological, cellular, biochemical, and anatomical properties of the patient.”
Although a “medical miracle”, this synthetic organ is yet to be used as a transplant. The reason is that although completely vascularized, this organ is only the same size as the heart of a rabbit, thus unsuitable for humans. In addition, although the cardiac cells currently contract, their behaviour is not quite comparable to that of an actual heart.
The project’s scientists are currently collaborating to find a solution for the aforementioned shortcomings so that they can begin the animal trials and, hopefully, human trials after that. Although this technology is yet to be perfected, this is still a highly significant and groundbreaking breakthrough in medicine which can solve one of the major dilemmas in the medical world.