Once that process is complete, they will attempt to transplant them into animal models. While the cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells and efficiently differentiated to cardiac or endothelial 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".
Israeli researchers have printed a 3-D heart using a patient's own cells, something they say could be used to patch diseased hearts - and possibly, full transplants. While the Tel Aviv University (TAU) team's 3D-printed heart doesn't actually work yet, it is the closest anyone has ever come to artificially replicating one of our most complex and vital organs.
To make sure the heart's shape matched up with the anatomy of the patient, CT scans were used to gather a basic blueprint of the organ, including the orientation of the major blood vessels in the left ventricle.
They then mixed the cells and the hydrogel to create so-called "bio-inks" for cardiac patches, which were followed by an entire heart.
"It's completely biocompatible and matches the patient", reducing the chances of rejection inside the body, said Tal Dvir, the professor who directed the project.
"At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit's heart", said Dvir. "People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels".
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As stated in the abstract of the study, "These results demonstrate the potential of the approach for engineering personalized tissues and organs, or for drug screening in an appropriate anatomical structure and patient‐specific biochemical microenvironment".
Previously, only simple tissues - without the blood vessels they need to live and function - had been printed, according to a press release from the university.
Using the patient's own tissue is important to eliminate the risk of an implant provoking an immune response and being rejected, Dvir said.
The cells need to mature for another month or so and then should be able to beat and contract, Dvir said. Our hope is that we will succeed and prove our method's efficacy and usefulness. 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".
"Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely", he said. Note: material may have been edited for length and content.