It marked "the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers", Tal Dvir, who led the project told AFP. Elaborating on the usage of the patient's own cells, Dvir claims that this is the most pivotal step to engineering the organs and tissues. 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.
Using genetic engineering, the scientists then tweaked the various components, reprogramming some of the cells to become cardiac muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, and some to become cells that generate blood vessels.
The lead researcher, Dvir, stated, "Our outcomes show the capability of our methodology for designing the personalized organ and tissue substitution for the future".
The study was inspired by the prevalence of heart disease in both Israel and the U.S. According to data compiled by the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, accounting for the deaths of more than 600,000 people every year. However, there are significant shortages of heart donors-an issue that regenerative medicine has the potential to address.
A 3D image displays a computerised visualization of a human heart.
"At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit's heart". But the team is confident that the same technology could be used to construct larger hearts. The printing process took about three hours.
But he said hospitals would likely start with simpler organs than hearts.
"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments", Professor Dvir said. "Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient's own tissues".
After that, the researchers mixed the cells with the gel to create "bio-inks" that are loaded into 3D-printer.
Researchers are now looking to teach the printed hearts "to behave" like real ones as the cells currently are able to contract, but do not have the ability to pump yet. "Our hope is that we will succeed and prove our method's efficacy and usefulness", Dvir said.
Making a human heart model is a major medical breakthrough.
Researchers have been working on 3D-printed tissues for years, with the eventual goal of creating functioning organs for transplant. "According to this recent study from Israel, we are closer than we thought".
From spare parts and guns, 3D printing is becoming a promising approach in engineering personalized tissues and organs in cases when regeneration of cells is hard and replacement of damaged ones is expensive.