Researchers 3D bio-print a working heart pump with real human cells

Team at the University of Minnesota 3D bio-print a functioning heart pump in the lab.

Scientists at the University of Minnesota have made a breakthrough in the field of physical heart disease with a breakthrough with 3D bio-print tech [1].

Longevity.Technology: When you consider that every year an estimated 17.9 million people die globally as a result of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) [2], which include disorders including coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and rheumatic heart disease, it is clear that the implications of this latest breakthrough could be significant for Longevity.

Especially given that over 25% of CVD fatalities are the premature deaths of people who are under 70 [3]. 3D bio-printing could be an efficient way to ensure a ready supply of therapeutics wherever they are needed, printed to demand.

The research team were able to use actual human cardiac myocytes, the cells which make up the heart muscle, to create a 3D printed miniature, functioning heart pump in the laboratory in a groundbreaking discovery which may now pave the way for greater understanding of a variety of life-shortening and life-threatening cardiac conditions.

However, the move to use 3D printing in the field of cardiac repair has been explored unsuccessfully in earlier studies. Researchers have previously tried to replicate the human heart through the use of human cells. In this preceding work, scientists attempted to transform stem cells into cardiac muscle cells, using a 3D printer to create a heart from these myocytes. The stem cells were unable, however, to reach the full functionality needed. 

The scientists at the University of Minnesota broke away from previously unsuccessful techniques by combining a unique ink from extracellular matrix protein with ink from stem cells in a new approach which resulted in structures of around 1.5cm that contained the high cell densities needed for functionality: the cardiac cells were able to beat together in the same way as a normal, human heart.

The latest discovery builds on an existing body of research into the use of 3D bio-printing and pluripotent stem cells. For instance, the 3D bioprinting companies Aspect Biosystems and Axolotl Biosciences are focused on creating bio-ink to enable the 3D printing of tissues.  

Researchers at the University of Minnesota had previously spent two years trying and failing with different methods. What made the difference this time around was the coming together of 3D printing and cellular research. The team took an extra step of first replicating the stem cells before reprogramming them to transform into cardiac myocytes.

This method was successful as it closely mimics the human body’s natural way of replicating stem cells before they change into cardiac myocytes.

“We now have a model to track and trace what is happening at the cell and molecular level in [a] pump structure that begins to approximate the human heart,” said researcher Brenda Ogle. “We can introduce a disease and damage into the model and then study the effects of medicines and other therapeutics [4].”

This new discovery could now pave the way for further understanding of cardiovascular disease, its causes and treatments, by providing researchers with the ability to study the functional structure of the heart in laboratory conditions.


Images and video source: University of Minnesota