Hope for ready-made organs as 3D printer creates miniature heart

Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D print of heart with human tissue at the University of Tel Aviv

Inside sat a small heart the size and colour of several pencil erasers.

Previously, only simple tissues - without the blood vessels they need to live and function - had been printed, according to a press release from the university.

It marked "the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers", said Tal Dvir, who led the project.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death among human beings around the world.

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Given the dire shortage of heart donors, the need to develop new approaches to regenerate the malfunctioning heart is urgent. Previous attempts to print a heart were either created from materials not derived from the patient's own cells, such as synthetic materials or animal tissue, or they did not have blood vessels. The non-cellular materials were turned into a gel that served as the bio-ink for printing, Dvir explained. "The resulting autologous engineered tissue can be transplanted back into the patient, to fix or replace injured/diseased organs with low risk of rejection".

Research for the study was conducted jointly by Prof. He was assisted by Nadav Noor, Dr. Assaf Shapira, Reuven Edri, Idan Gal and Lior Wertheim.

The 3D-printing technology is already being used to construct entire houses in just 24 hours, but using the tech to create a human heart was proving hard.

"But larger human hearts require the same technology", Prof Dvir said.

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In order to print the heart, the researchers started by taking fatty tissue from a patient. The tissue's cellular materials were separated from those that weren't and reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells, "master cells" able to make cells from all three body layers with the potential to produce any cell or tissue in the body. That allowed researchers to create complex tissue models including cardiac patches and eventually an entire heart.

"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardises the success of such treatments", said Dvir. "It's completely biocompatible and matches the patient".

Researchers must now teach the printed hearts to behave like real ones.

According Avir, while people have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, they have not done so with cells or with blood vessels. "Our hope is that we will succeed and prove our method's efficacy and usefulness", said Prof. With this achievement, the researchers at Tel Aviv University theorised that organ printers could be available at hospitals as early as within 10 years. Tal Dvir's laboratory in Tel Aviv University April 15, 2019, Israel.

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