Israeli scientists print miniature 3D heart using human tissue

Dr. Assaf Shpira looks at a 3D print of heart with human tissue at the University of Tel Aviv

Dr. Assaf Shpira looks at a 3D print of heart with human tissue at the University of Tel Aviv

Scientists in Israel unveiled a 3D print of a heart with human tissue and vessels on Monday, calling it a first and a "major medical breakthrough" that advances possibilities for transplants.

Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D-printed heart made from human tissue in his laboratory.

The staggering development prompted Israel's Foreign Ministry to react, citing it as yet another exceptional example of Israeli innovation. Currently, the hearts can only contract but researchers plan on culturing the 3D printed hearts and teaching them how to operate like the real deal. Dvir said. Re-producing human-size hearts will require the same technology but significantly more time.

Though the heart cells now contract, they're not synchronized or entirely functional.

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Until now, scientists in regenerative medicine - a field positioned at the crossroads of biology and technology - have been successful in printing only simple tissues without blood vessels.

The process involved taking a biopsy of fatty tissue from patients, after which the cellular and a-cellular materials were then separated. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S., with heart transplants being the only treatment available to those with end-stage heart failure. Cells were mixed with the hydrogel and then differentiated into cardiac or endothelial cells (those that line the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels) to create patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches complete with blood vessels and, ultimately, an entire heart bioengineered from "native" patient-specific materials.

Although the organ is only the size of a cherry and can not pump blood, experts said its creating is a "major medical breakthrough".

"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments", Dvir said. The engineered heart completely matches the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient. Dvir says. "Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient's own tissues".

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Current 3D printers are also limited by the size of their resolution and another challenge will be figuring out how to print all small blood vessels.

While the 2.5 centimeter-sized heart is too small for a human, the researchers believe it puts them a step closer to creating personalized organs for those in need of a transplant. 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".

They hope in the next 10 years, organ printers will be in hospitals "around the world" and the procedures will be a routine practice. Note: material may have been edited for length and content.

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