Researchers from the University Of Minnesota have taken a revolutionary step in the field of cardiology. Using actual human cardiac myocytes, they have managed to 3D print a miniature functional heart pump in their lab. This groundbreaking discovery can now enable researchers to thoroughly understand the underlying pathophysiology of numerous life-threatening cardiac conditions.
This has huge implications for the medical field in its entirety as heart disease is the number one cause of sudden death in the United States. The study was published in the American Heart Association’s publication, Circulation Research.
Why Have Attempts of 3D printing of Cardiac Myocytes failed previously?
However, the concept of 3D printing the heart is not a new one, as many researchers have previously attempted replicating the human heart using pluripotent human stem cells which are cells that can replicate into any cell type within the human body. In these prior studies, researchers programmed the stem cells to develop into cardiac myocytes and guided a 3D printer to create a functioning heart from these cells. But due to the inability of the stem cells to replicate to a functional quantity known as the critical cell density, their attempts were unsuccessful.
Researcher Make A Breakthrough After Years of Failure
Diverting from the path of their fellow researchers, the University of Minnesota researchers decided to revert the approach of the old tried and failed process. After their initial failed attempts at developing a functional 3D heart, the researchers decided to optimize the process by combining a unique ink prepared from extracellular matrix protein with the ink from pluripotent stem cells. This approach resulted in structures with high cell densities which were then modified to differentiate them into functional cardiac myocytes.
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For the first time, the researchers were able to attain the critical cell density required for the cardiac cells to beat synchronously as a normal heart would beat. But this feat was not an overnight success as it took the researchers almost two years of failed attempts before they decided to approach this different route.
Their approach of first replicating the stem cells prior to reprogramming them to differentiate into cardiac myocytes is what made the breakthrough. This method closely resembles the body’s manner of initially replicating the stem cells prior to undergoing differentiation to cardiac myocytes.
This breakthrough discovery has created a new modality to study the functional structure of a heart within controlled laboratory conditions.
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“We now have a model to track and trace what is happening at the cell and molecular level in pump structure that begins to approximate the human heart,” Ogle said. “We can introduce disease and damage into the model and then study the effects of medicines and other therapeutics.”
The minuscule 3D printed heart pump designed to fit a mouse is a mere 1.5 centimeters in length, but its implications in the field of cardiology are life-altering.