Biomedical researchers have 3D printed the world's first vascularised engineered heart using a patient's own cells and biological materials.
The major medical breakthrough occurred at Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. A biopsy of fatty tissue was taken from the patient and 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, a three-dimensional network of extracellular macromolecules such as collagen and glycoproteins, were processed into a personalised hydrogel that served as the printing 'ink', according to the research team.
After being mixed with the hydrogel, the cells were differentiated to cardiac or endothelial cells to create patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire heart.
"This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers," said Prof. Tal Dvir of TAU's School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, who led the research for the study.
While the heart that was printed was small, the size of a rabbit's, the researchers are now planning on culturing the printed hearts in the laboratory and "teaching them to behave" like hearts. The cells can currently contract but need to form a pumping ability and work together. The plan then is to transplant the 3D-printed heart into animals for testing.
The team forecast that perhaps within 10 years there would be 3D organ printers in hospitals around the world where these procedures might be conducted routinely.
The findings of the study have been published in Advanced Science.