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  • Writer's pictureMohor Sengupta

Scientists create portion of the heart starting from a patient's fat tissue and a 3D printer.

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

It's an exact replica of a portion of the human heart. It has the exact same structure, anatomy and the same blood vessel network like that of a patient's defective heart. And it was built from scratch. Not quite. A 3D printer was involved too.

In a pioneering work from a group of scientists at Tel Aviv university, the first artificially assembled human heart tissue was created. It's not long before a full-sized functional heart, or for that matter any organ, can be engineered in the laboratory sparing thousands of people from the endless wait for organ transplants.

The researchers first isolated a fatty tissue from the patient. These types of tissues are usually found as supportive pads around organs. They broke down that tissue into cells and extracellular matrix, which are basically materials that surround cells and hold them together. The isolated cells from the tissue were programmed to become stem cells. Stem cells can be made to grow into any cell type of the body. In this case, the stem cells were made to become cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) and endothelial cells (cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels), two most important structural components of the heart. The extracellular matrix was used to make a hydrogel, which would be the supporting structure for the newly formed cell types.

With these basic starting materials ready, the researchers had to mold them exactly the way they looked like inside the patient's damaged heart. For this, they first took a CT scan image of the patient's heart. The CT scan, which gives an anatomical picture of the actual heart, formed the blueprint for the finished material. A 3D printer then molded the hydrogel and the cells into an exact replica of the CT image. A feature called computer-aided design (CAD) is employed by 3D printers to design the geometry of a tissue from an anatomical image like those generated by CT scans.

The end result was a heart tissue, complete with blood vessels, that had an identical structure to the one needing replacement in the patient.

3D printers have been used in medicine in the past. Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest School of Medicine has engineered skeletal muscle tissue with stem cells, using a 3D printer, in his pioneering work. The current innovation by Dr. Tal Dvir could be a huge step forward in ushering a generation into the realm of human organs engineered by human beings.

(Image source: Max Pixel)

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