Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States killing more than 600,000 people a year. But there may be a new development insight that could change all that.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have 3D printed a working human heart pump in the lab that is made out of human cells. This isn't the first time researchers have tried to 3D print cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells.
These specialized cells are derived from pluripotent human stem cells, cells with the potential to develop into any type of cell in the body. However, before this study, scientists could never reach enough cell density for the heart muscle cells to actually work.
“At first, we tried 3D printing cardiomyocytes, and we failed, too,” said in a statement Brenda Ogle, the lead researcher on the study and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering. “So with our team’s expertise in stem cell research and 3D printing, we decided to try a new approach."
The team optimized the specialized ink made from extracellular matrix proteins and combined it with human stem cells. They then used the ink-plus-cells to 3D print the chambered structure. This resulted in the stem cells being expanded to high cell densities in the structure first and then transformed into heart muscle cells.
This means the researchers were able to 3D print the heart muscle cells in a way that the cells could organize and work together. Because the cells were differentiating next to each other, they mimicked the way stem cells grow in the body and then turned into heart muscle cells.
For now, the heart muscle model measures only 1.5 centimeters long. It was designed to fit into a mouse for further research and Ogle says it is an invaluable tool for studying heart function.
“We now have a model to track and trace what is happening at the cellular and molecular level in pump structure that begins to approximate the human heart,” Ogle said. The study is published in the journal Circulation Research, a publication of the American Heart Association.