A team of researchers at the Tel Aviv University has managed to successfully 3D print a small heart by using human tissues which includes blood vessels, biological molecules and collagens. This is considered to be a remarkable achievement as the scientists hope that with the help of this, they can make organ donation to be a thing of the past.
The 3D printed heart is the size of a rabbit’s and it is not fully functional yet. However, the team has pointed out that the technology involved in 3D printing the heart for a human body is essentially the same. There are several steps of improvement left in the heart as the cells need to possess the pumping ability, a crucial working of the heart. Currently, the group of cells can contract but they need to work together. The scientists believe that they can succeed in increasing the efficiency of the method.
So the next step in the line is to make the printed heart grow and mature in the laboratory and make it learn how to function like an actual heart. Only after then can scientists take the decision to use it for transplant in animals for testing their functionality. This is a very time-consuming process and it may take years before this technology can create actual functioning organs that are ready to transplant. Nevertheless, this is a significant progress, as three-dimensional printing has managed to print tissues but not the blood vessels, which is very important for its working.
Dr. Dvir said that this is the first time, a team has successfully managed to engineer and print an entire heart with all the components inside it, the cells, blood vessels, chambers.
Scientists have previously printed cartilage and aortal tissues, but the main challenge was not accomplished, which is to create tissues with complete vascularization, blood vessels, capillaries. In the absence of these, the organs would not survive.
The scientists began the process with fatty tissues extracted from the human body and then they separated the cellular components from the non-cellular components. After that, they programmed these cells to undifferentiated stem cells which can be nudged to form cardiac cells or endothelial cells. The non-cellular materials such as the proteins galore were processed to form a personalized hydrogel which served as printing ink.
Organ printing basically involves three stages. The first stage is called the pre-print stage, which involves scanning the organ. The second stage is printing the organ and the third stage is maturing the organ in a proper environment.