Tel Aviv University researchers have printed the world’s first 3D vascularised engineered heart using a patient’s own cells and biological materials. Until now, scientists in regenerative medicine have been successful in printing only simple tissues without blood vessels.
“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” says Prof. Tal Dvir, who led the research for the study.
“This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. 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,” Prof. Dvir says. “People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels. Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future.”
At this stage, the 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit’s heart, as Prof. Dvir explains. But larger human hearts require the same technology.
For the research, a biopsy of fatty tissue was taken from patients. The cellular and a-cellular materials of the tissue were then separated. While the cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells, the extracellular matrix (ECM), a three-dimensional network of extracellular macromolecules such as collagen and glycoproteins, were processed into a personalized hydrogel that served as the printing “ink.”
After being mixed with the hydrogel, the cells were efficiently differentiated to cardiac or endothelial cells to create patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire heart. According to Prof. Dvir, the use of “native” patient-specific materials is crucial to successfully engineering tissues and organs.
“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments,” Prof. Dvir says. “Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient’s own tissues. Here, we can 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.”
The researchers are now planning on culturing the printed hearts in the lab and “teaching them to behave” like hearts, Prof. Dvir says. They then plan to transplant the 3D-printed heart in animal models.
“Although a great deal of R&D still needs to be devoted, we hope that this proof-of-concept will advance personalized regenerative medicine another step toward clinical application.”