What Israeli scientists’ 3D print of a heart means for medical advancement, explained

On Monday, April 15, Israeli scientists showed the world a 3D printed heart made from human tissue and vessels. This development is expected to be a “major medical breakthrough” for heart patients in the future.

AFP reported that scientists at Tel Aviv University have sparked hope for the future after they managed to artificially print a rabbit-sized heart with human tissue.

Project leader Dr Tal Dvir said this is “the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers”.

The study was published in Advanced Science journal.

Spokesperson for Israel’s Foreign Ministry Emmanuel Nahshon said, “For the first time ever Israeli scientists have created a vascularized human heart that fully matches the properties of a human patient. This is a major breakthrough and great news for world medicine.”

How did Israeli scientists create the 3D printed heart?

To print the heart, scientists used fatty tissue from patients. Dr Dvir said a patient’s own tissue is required to avoid a negative immune response, for a potential 3D printed heart transplant.

“These hearts are made from the patient’s own materials and own cells,” he said.

The research team created cardiac patches for each patient using these cells as bio-links or substances made of sugars and proteins, said Reuters. Then, it fed the tissue into the printer as ink to create the heart. The printing process took about three hours.

The 3D printed heart is the size of a cherry, large enough to fit in a rabbit. This is the first time anyone has printed a heart equipped with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers.

3D printed heart gives hope to future patients

This project is years away from human trials. For now, Dr Dvir said it will be tested in animals in about a year.

Although the pink and blue hearts look real, they do not yet have the ability to pump blood. The heart’s cells can contract but not pump like a human heart does.

Moreover, scientists have not yet figured out how to expand the cells to a size suitable for humans or recreate tiny blood vessels because current printers are limited in their resolution and power.

Hence, the next few years are crucial for teaching the 3D printed heart how to behave like a real one.

Developing means to bypass traditional heart transplants is important, said Dr Dvir, because of the shortage of donors.

Why this matters

The World Health Organization (WHO) says cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. In 2016, 17.9 million people died from heart disease, accounting for 31% of global deaths.

The WHO also notes that middle- and low-income countries are most at risk for heart diseases because they do not have adequate access to healthcare and early detection facilities.

India is also highly susceptible to heart disease. Business Line reported that between 1990 and 2016, heart disease and stroke cases increased by 50%. Heart disease is also the leading cause of death in India. People under the age of 70 account for more than half of the country’s cardiovascular-related deaths.

In their 2019 manifestos, both the BJP and Congress have cited healthcare as one of their focus points.

The BJP called for increased benefits to poor families and establishment of more medical colleges throughout the country. The Congress promised to increase healthcare spending and announced free diagnostics, medication, and hospitalisation with select partners.

The 3D printed heart provides hope to patients in the future and motivates more research into and innovation in the medical field.

“I believe that in 10 years there will be printers in every hospital that will print tissues and organs, which will then be transplanted into patients,” he said optimistically.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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