Heart disease is very common, and it is alarming to note the number of deaths caused by heart conditions each year across the globe. It may not be wrong to say that every person suffering from heart disease may never receive a transplant. During such conditions, 3D printing technology has given a ray of hope to the possibility of replicating vital organs in patients. An extraordinary feat was recently achieved at the University of Minnesota where a 3D printed stem cell heart containing actual human cells was able to pump like a functioning organ. This model beat like a human heart and was sized at 1.5 centimeters.
This development is a big step forward towards bringing down the death toll attributed to heart conditions across the world. 3D printing technology is a viable alternative to organ transplant and is a key strategy in regenerative medicine.
The 3D printed stem cell heart made with human stem cells is a miniature but is being viewed as a game-changer. This success will fuel research and innovation in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. 3D bioprinting produces replicas of human organs and “creates” living tissue using specialized ‘biocompatible’ inks. The possibility of a 3D heart transplant is still far away, but the heart pump achieved is a breakthrough.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota took a different track from earlier studies when they were unable to print functioning heart muscle cells that produced a pump. This time around, they grew human stem cells until a suitable cell density was achieved within a heart muscle structure. The research was previously focused on directly printing cardiomyocytes, but during this time, the appropriate cell density could not be achieved. Cardiomyocytes are differentiated stem cells.
Brenda Ogle led the research at the University of Minnesota, and she explains precisely how they were successful. She says, at first, we tried 3D printing cardiomyocytes, and we failed, too. So, with our team’s expertise in stem cell research and 3D printing, we decided to try a new approach. We optimized the special ink made from extracellular matrix proteins, combined the ink with human stem cells, and used the ink-plus-cells to 3D print the chambered structure. The stem cells were expanded to high cell densities in the structure first, and then we differentiated them to the heart muscle cells.
This beating human heart was printed as a two-chamber structure with an extracellular matrix. This model could transform the study of medicines and therapies. A 3D printed heart is a crucial tool in research since it can be used by scientists to study the pumping of blood and the functioning of a human heart more closely.
The 3D printed stem cell heart produced in this research will be studied further as it was made to be placed within the abdominal cavity of a mouse. This extraordinary feat by the University of Minnesota will go a long way in making vital organs accessible to patients in a sustainable manner.