Scientists Have Printed A 3D Heart For The First Time. Why Is It So Important?
In a breakthrough experiment, researchers from Tel Aviv University have printed a 3D heart for the first time using a patient's own cells.
The heart is approximately the size of a rabbit's but has all of the vascular details of a human heart needed to function and pump blood.
However, the heart did need to be simplified somewhat to fit the scale of the printing.
Until this point, scientists have only been successful in 3D printing simple tissues without blood vessels using 'bio ink' -- a material that is made by extracting tissue from the patient.
Nadav Noor, a doctoral student and one of the researchers on the team, told 10 Daily that the bio ink used was made by genetically engineering stem cells from a tissue biopsy, which were then cultivated into heart muscle cells and blood vessel cells.
The biopsy was also used to create a 'gel' that is loaded in to the printer with the heart cells.
While the heart is a promising start for this frontier branch of regenerative medicine, Noor said that it will be "years" before anybody is able to produce a heart that can beat and circulate blood by itself.
Noor also added that scientists are an even longer way off from being able to replace donor organs with these 3D-printed alternatives.
"We hope that this research will take us one step further towards printing functioning organs. However, a profound R and D [research and development] still needs to be done for this tech to become clinically relevant."
There are a number of hurdles that research teams need to overcome that the Tel Aviv University researchers outline in the paper. They need to be able to effectively cultivate much larger amounts of stems cells for the amount needed to create a human heart and the hearts created need to be able to mature correctly.
Scientists also need to develop a complex blueprint of all the vessels of the human heart that can be replicated precisely with a 3D bio ink printer.
Coronary heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia across both men and women and heart transplantation is the only treatment available to patients who are in the late stages of heart failure.
At any given point, approximately 1,400 Australians are on an organ donor waiting list.
3D printing organs using the bio ink approach could have enormous benefits in the future for patients that would otherwise be forced to await donor organs for transplant.