Scientists ‘Print’ Miniature 3D Heart Using Human Tissue

An Ultimaker 3D printer works at 'New Lab', an advanced manufacturing hub in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on May 9, 2013 in New York City.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

A team of Israeli scientists has successfully “printed” a miniature version of a 3D heart that uses human tissue.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University revealed the heart on Monday, which was made from human cells and included blood vessels and heart chambers.

Until now, scientists have only managed to print simple tissues and versions of hearts without intricate components such as cells and vessels, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“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.

Dvir, lead researcher for the study, explained that the heart was made from “human cells and patient-specific biological materials,” which served as “bioinks” that were used to print “complex tissue models.” Simply put, the cellular materials from fatty tissue taken from patients were separated and “reprogrammed.” The researcher also said that using a patient’s own cells and biological materials eliminated the risk of the body rejecting the implant.

Researchers showed the heart, which was about the size of a rabbit’s heart, to journalists as they announced their findings, which were published in the journal Advanced Science, the Times of Israel reported.

The achievement is a milestone in transplant technology. However, it could still be years before scientists are able to create a heart suitable for human transplants.

The first major challenge scientists face in making 3D human hearts is “teaching” them to behave like real ones. Researchers said the heart they revealed had the ability to contract, but not to pump, the Times reported. Printed hearts would also first have to undergo trials in animals before they could eventually be used in humans, Dvir said.

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The research still has a way to go. While this printed heart is a breakthrough, scientists are currently trying to figure out how to expand cells to the point where they have enough tissue to recreate a human-sized heart, Dvir said. The resolution of current 3D printers is also a challenge. In addition, modern 3D printers do not have the ability to print all of the small blood vessels that exist in a heart.

“Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” Dvir said.

The development of 3D hearts holds promise, as heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S.