Researchers at Tel Aviv
University say their ‘major medical breakthrough’ will advance possibilities
for transplants Cardiovascular disease is the world’s leading cause of death, according to the World Health Organization, and transplants are currently the only option available for patients with end-stage heart failure. But the number of heart donors is in short supply and many die while waiting. Even when they do benefit, they can fall victim to their bodies rejecting the transplant — a problem a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University is seeking to overcome.
The Tel Aviv team
has unveiled the world’s first complete 3D printed heart with human tissue and blood
vessels calling it “a major breakthrough,” advancing the possibility for
transplants. “Using the patient’s own tissue was important to eliminate the
risk of an implant provoking an immune response and being rejected,” according
to Tal Dvir, who led the research and is
senior author of the study published in the journal Advanced
says this marks “the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and
printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and
chambers. 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.” When asked to sum up this groundbreaking
accomplishment, he states, “Our results demonstrate the potential of our
approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the
So, you may
wonder, where do you begin when 3D printing a living heart? The first step
involves taking a biopsy of the fatty tissue that surrounds the abdominal
organs from the patient. Researchers then separate the cells in the tissue from
the rest of the contents, namely, the extracellular matrix linking the cells. After
which, the cells are reprogrammed to become stem cells and the matrix is
processed into a personalized hydrogel that serves as the printing
When mixed with
the hydrogel, the stem cells differentiate into cardiac or epithelial cells,
creating patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood
vessels, which later become an entire heart.
“At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit's
heart," added Dvir. "But larger human hearts require the same
He also notes, "The
biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of
implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments. Ideally,
the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and
topographical properties as the patient's own tissues. Here, we report a simple
approach to 3D-printed thick, vascularized and perfusable cardiac tissues that
completely match the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical
properties of the patient."
Next, the researchers plan to train the hearts to behave like hearts, Dvir explained, "The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together." If researchers are successful, they plan to transplant the 3D-printed heart in animals and, after that, humans.
Although we may
be years away from having organ printers in the
finest hospitals around the world to enable these procedures to be conducted
routinely, this is certainty a groundbreaking step toward engineering
customized organs that can be transplanted with less risk of rejection.
than 113,000 people are currently on the national transplant
list. And with a shortage of donors, this means that about 20 people die every
day while waiting for an organ, according to the U.S. Department of Health.