Researchers at Tel Aviv University have 3D-printed a complete, small-scale human heart, complete with inner chambers and its own blood vessels and circulatory system.
Just as impressive, the heart matches the biochemical and immune system properties of the person who donated the cells the heart was made from. That means that, if the heart were implanted in the cells’ donor, the body would recognize it and not reject it as alien.
This is the first time an entire heart has been created that could be implanted into the heart cells’ donor if it had been grown to full size. The heart is only as big as a rabbit’s but is considered proof that a human-size heart could be produced using the same method.
The researchers took fatty tissue from the donor and chemically programmed some of the cells to become stem cells. The stem cells were mixed with collagen and proteins from the same donor and then orchestrated to develop into heart cells and endothelial cells, the kind of cell that lines the heart and blood vessels.
The custom-printed heart is good news not only for the 3,100 Americans on the waiting list for a heart transplant but also for others – now and in the future – who’ll need new organs. Researchers are likely to apply the same approach to developing new kidneys, spleens, and other parts. This will eliminate the risk of organ rejection and the grueling regime of drugs that patients receiving other people’s used organs now are subjected to.