Hope for ready-made organs as 3D printer creates miniature heart

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After "training" the hearts to efficiently pump, the team hopes to transplant them into animals for further testing.

The printer-generated heart is only about a third the size of an actual human heart - and it doesn't actually work. For patients with late stage heart failure, a heart transplant is the only solution. Using the patient's materials means the chance of organ rejection by the body is slim to none.

That's where using the patient's own cells to 3D print a heart can help, though there are other challenges.

Until now, scientists in regenerative medicine - a field positioned at the crossroads of biology and technology - have been successful in printing only simple tissues without blood vessels.

"While the extracellular matrix is processed into a gel, the cells are genetically engineered to become stem cells, and then differentiate into heart muscle cells and blood-vessel-forming cells". Heart transplantation is oftentimes the only way to improve their quality of life and extend survival. While the heart isn't full-sized - it's about as big as a rabbit's heart - it still marks a breakthrough, the team says. Their findings were published on 15 April in a study in Advanced Science.

While it is true that scientists have succeeded in 3d printing the architecture of the heart, which has included cartilage and the aortal valve tissue, no research team as of yet has effectively generated the porous vascular system through which blood vessels carry out their business and without which an organ will necessarily perish.

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Cardiovascular disease is the world's leading cause of death, according to the World Health Organization, and transplants are now the only option available for patients in the worst cases.

"Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient's own tissues", Dvir noted.

The next step is culturing printed hearts in the lab and "teaching them to behave" like hearts, Dvir added. It will need to undergo a maturing process in bioreactors to keep the cells alive and grow them to accommodate a life-sized heart.

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 fact, this method allows us to print any organ that is required for a transplant and we believe that this method opens the door to future technologies, which will make the need for organ donors completely unnecessary".

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

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