APR 18, 2017 10:29 AM PDT

3D Printing Brings Digital Heart Patch to Life

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Advances in regenerative medicine are especially meaningful for heart attack survivors, who are vulnerable to complications from tissue damage incurred while their heart muscle cells, called cardiomyocytes, were deprived of oxygenated blood. From the University of Minnesota, a new three-dimensional bioprinted heart patch is the latest move forward.

The 3D-bioprinted cell patch in comparison to a mouse heart. Researchers saw significant increase in functional capacity after just four weeks. Photo credit: Patrick O'Leary, University of Minnesota

Whatever the cause, a heart attack results in a loss of blood to the heart muscle. This triggers a series of organ-wide effects: cells dying, scar tissue forming. Quickly attending to a person suffering a heart attack is a monumental factor in preventing long-term damage to the heart; scar tissue is not as flexible as the original muscle tissue, and increasing amounts of scar tissue replacing healthy heart tissue increases a person’s risk of heart failure later in life.

Many scientists are interested in developing and optimizing heart patch technology, but the present model is unique for its digitally-based design that mimics structural proteins of native heart tissue. The digital to physical transition happens via 3D printing with proteins native to the heart muscle and heart cells derived from stem cells.

University of Minnesota scientists tested the patch first in mice after manually triggering a heart attack. The patch cells successfully grew, “beat synchronously,” and accommodated the native heart cells, leading to a significant increase in “functional capacity” of the heart after about  month.

"This is a significant step forward in treating the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.," said University of Minnesota’s Brenda Ogle. "We feel that we could scale this up to repair hearts of larger animals and possibly even humans within the next several years."

Associate Professor Brenda Ogle (right) and Ph.D. student Molly Kupfer (left). Credit: Patrick O'Leary, University of Minnesota

Ogle and her team have filed a patent for their new technology, which could ultimately be clinically applied to people recovering from a heart attack, preventing tissue damage and negative side effects from scarred heart tissue.

Before being tested in humans, though, researchers will next apply this technology  in pig hearts, which are closer in size to a human heart than are mouse hearts.

Source: University of Minnesota, Circulation Research

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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