"People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels", he said.
The heart is believed to the be the first ever to have been printed with cells, blood vessels and chambers.
Dr. Assaf Shapira watches a 3D printer print what Israeli scientist Professor Tal Dvir says is the world's first 3D-printed vascularized engineered heart, at a laboratory in Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 15, 2019.
The tiny organ, now only the size of a cherry, was engineered from the tissue of patients which was use to create a bio-ink.
While it's not clear a printer can produce hearts that are superior to human ones, "perhaps by printing patches we can improve or take out diseased areas in the heart and replace them with something that works" perfectly, he said.
But the scientists said many challenges remain before fully working 3D printed hearts will be available for transplant into patients.
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Immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels were printed, and then an entire heart, Dvir said, adding that the use of "native", patient-specific materials was crucial to engineering tissues and organs successfully. The non-cellular materials were turned into a gel that served as the bio-ink for printing, Dvir explained.
Journalists were shown a 3D print of a heart about the size of a cherry at Tel Aviv University on Monday as the researchers announced their findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Science. The cells are reprogrammed to become pluripotent and are then differentiated to cardiomyocytes and endothelial cells before encapsulation within the hydrogel to generate the bioinks used for printing. "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 maturing process will take about a month, after which they will transplant them into animals such as rabbits and rats for testing.
"The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can now contract, but we need them to work together".
"We need to develop the printed heart further", he concludes.
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.
In its statement announcing the research, Tel Aviv University called it a "major medical breakthrough".
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