Scientists at Tel Aviv University have created a tiny, live heart in a revolutionary new 3D printing process that combines human tissue taken from a patient.
The heart is believed to the be the first ever to have been printed with cells, blood vessels and chambers.
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.
Researchers detailed their breakthrough this week in the journal Advanced Science.
The process consists of three stages: the target organ is scanned via MRI, it is then printed using patient-specific bioinks, "substances made of sugars and proteins", made of their own cells after which the organ is then matured it in a suitable laboratory or host environment. Personalized organs would be more easily accepted by the body. The paper is co-authored by Nadav Noor, Assaf Shapira, Reuven Edri, Idan Gal, Lior Wertheim and Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University.
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. "But larger human hearts require the same technology".
To create the bioinks used to build the heart, scientists took fatty cells from a patient and reprogrammed them to become pluripotent stem cells before differentiating them into cardiac and endothelial cells, which form the vascular interior. Though completely vascularized, it's too small at about the size of a rabbit heart.
"At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit's heart", said Dvir.
"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments", said Dvir.
"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", he added.
The hearts need to learn how to beat and pump like human hearts before they can be tested on animals and eventually in humans. The technology has developed to include 3D prints of everything from homes to guns. Currently, the cells can contract but do not work together.
The hearts can now contract, but still need to learn how to "behave like hearts", Dvir said, adding that he hopes to succeed and prove his method's efficacy and usefulness.
"Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely".