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Organ Replacement Takes a Big Step Forward

In an incredible landmark first for the science community, a new advancement was unveiled on Monday in a study published in Advance Science. For the first time in history, scientists have used a 3D printer to create a working heart using human cells, complete with blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.


Tel Aviv University professor Tal Dvir said in a statement, “This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. In our process these materials serve as the bioinks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3D printing of complex tissue models. People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels. Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future."

Scientists used fatty tissue from patients, separated into cellular and a-cellular materials to create the heart. The cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells and processed into a personalized hydrogel that served as the “ink” for printing. After being mixed with the hydrogel, the cells were separated into cardiac and endothelial cells to create patient-specific cardiac patches.

Scientists say the biocompatibility of engineered materials plays a crucial role in eliminating the risk of implant rejection. They were able to create 3D printed tissues that completely matched the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient.

While the heart is too small to be used for an organ transplant — it’s about equivalent to the size of a rabbit’s heart — there is potential to create a heart using the same technology that could be used for organ transplant. With more work and more research, scientists may be able to teach the heart to pump blood and behave like a human heart. Researchers are hopeful that the breakthrough could play a role in reducing deaths from heart disease — the leading cause of death for men and women, accounting for more than 800,000 deaths per year.