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Israeli scientists create the world's first 3D-printed heart from human cells



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To David Freeman

Israeli researchers have created a complete 3D printed heart of human cells in what they say is a world first.

The heart does not beat and is too small for human use ̵

1; it's just the size of a rabbit heart. However, the small organ is considered a major advance in the search for new therapies for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Heart transplants are currently the only good option for people with severe heart failure. But donor organs are so scarce that, on average, 18 Americans die each day before one is available. The ability to print a human heart in 3D as needed could potentially help save many lifetimes that are now lost.

"There may be organdprinters in the world's top hospitals in ten years, and these procedures will be routinely performed," said Tal Dvir, a researcher at the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology at Tel Aviv University and the director of the team of scientists that created the heart in an email to NBC News MACH.

A 3D printer is building a heart with tissue at a lecture at the University of Tel Aviv on April 15. Oded Balilty / AP

An article describing the research was published on Monday in the journal Advanced Science.

So far, scientists have been able to make 3D-printing heart structures that lacked cells or blood vessels. However, the new 3D-printed heart contains cells, blood vessels, chambers, and other structures that a heart needs to function normally. To accomplish this, Dvir and his team ingested adipose tissue and converted the fat cells into stem cells. These were made into a gel and then processed until they turned into heart cells. The cell-containing "bioink" was added to a 3D printer and was used layer by layer to construct the experimental organ.

Tal said the next step for his team would be to explore ways to "teach" 3D-printed hearts. Usually, then transplant into rats to see how well they work. Scientists will also explore the feasibility of 3D printing larger hearts, with the ultimate goal of building functional human hearts.

That could be even harder than it sounds.

"There are many questions and technical hurdles that need to be addressed," said James Yoo, a professor at Wake Forest School's Institute of Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in an e-mail.

Yoo said it was not clear that a printed heart of this kind could withstand blood flow under high pressure or that the printed structures would remain stable in the body after implantation. He voiced concerns about the feasibility of the "complex" cell manipulation process that Bioink produced – though he called the heart "a major advancement in bioprinting."

Doris Taylor, director of regeneration medical research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, said in an email that Israeli scientists had "pushed the hurdle" of regenerative medicine, but declined to use the 3D-printed heart as a to call a big breakthrough.

"A successful bioartificial organ implanted in a human will be a major breakthrough," she said in the email. "This is certainly a step that could lead to a breakthrough, but we are not there yet."

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