Israeli researchers said on Monday they have printed the world’s first 3D heart with blood vessels, describing it as a major breakthrough in engineering replacements for diseased organs.
At this stage, scientists printed pink and blue 3D rabbit-size hearts, but Professor Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University, who led the research for the study said that “larger human hearts require the same technology.”
The Israeli team’s findings were published on Monday in Advanced Science, a peer reviewed, open access journal.
Dvir, in a statement, said scientists had 3D-printed the structure of the heart in the past, but that “this is the first time that a whole heart, with blood vessels and cells is printed.”
He said that given a dire shortage of heart donors, the need to develop new approaches to regenerate a diseased heart was urgent.
It takes about three hours to 3D print a heart, but Dvir said that the hearts themselves require further development as the cells need to form a pumping ability.
The hearts can currently 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.
The researchers took a biopsy of fatty tissue from patients, using their cells and biological materials as so-called bio-inks, or substances made of sugars and proteins.
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.
“Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” Dvir said in a press release published by Tel Aviv University.
The paper also notes that while 3D printing is considered a promising approach for engineering whole organs, several challenges still remain.