3D bioprinting 'mini hearts' to help understand heart attack
Every ten minutes an Australian has a heart attack.
Damaged heart tissue can lead to heart failure and ultimately death.
Dr Carmine Gentile is leading the Cardiovascular Regeneration Group at UTS and at the Kolling Institute/University of Sydney, doing world-first research into repairing damaged hearts using 3D bioprinting with bioinks created from patients’ own stem cells.
Dr Gentile, who joined the UTS School of Biomedical Engineering in 2019, is using adult stem cells to 3D bioprint ‘mini hearts’ for testing, and to print heart patches that can help patients with heart damage. He described how bioprinted heart tissue is generated by isolating cells from patients’ own skin or blood, used to produce the stem cells and then transformed into heart cells.
We have developed a new way to use these cells to generate personalised ‘mini hearts’. We load the cells into the nozzle of a 3D bioprinter that produces patient-specific 3D bioprinted heart tissue that we can study to determine how that patient could react to a heart attack.
This ground-breaking research is the recipient of the 2020 Sydney Archdiocese’s adult stem cell research grant of $100,000 which Dr Gentile says will help cover the high cost of producing personalised bioinks for further testing.
‘Mini hearts’ (the size of half your smallest fingernail) are exposed to ‘heart attacks’ in a test tube to understand how the heart responds. By mimicking the conditions that the human heart experiences during a heart attack, researchers can identify the effects on a patient’s own heart tissue and potentially develop better, more personalised and targeted treatments and therapies.
Researchers also use 3D bioprinting to create personalised heart patches using bioinks developed from stem cells from the patient’s own body, retrieved from skin biopsies and blood samples. The healthy cells in the patch would then be transplanted directly back into the patient’s heart to help regenerate it after a heart attack.
For many heart patients the gold standard treatment at the moment is a heart transplant, which involves finding a suitable donor following a long waiting list. If transplanted, a donor heart carries with it a significant risk of failure as well. But we believe our research could offer a real, long term alternative to heart transplants for patients with heart failure.
Dr Gentile says this project highlights the long-term benefits which adult stem cell research has over embryonic stem cell research.
Besides ethical issues concerning the use of embryonic stem cells, there is also a serious risk the embryonic cell could be rejected by the patient’s body. This is not the case with autologous adult stem cells because they’re taken from the patient themselves.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP congratulated Dr Gentile and his team on their work, saying the project also demonstrates first-hand the power of adult stem cell research to shape medical breakthroughs.
If we can potentially save lives through tackling one of Australia’s most pressing health challenges through ethically responsible research projects like this one, then future generations will ultimately reap the rewards.
Heart Research Australia is also an important source of funding for the project, helping procure equipment that can also help identify unpredicted side effects of heart medications. Preliminary studies have helped detect whether medication is safe for a patient, and drugs or genetic conditions that improve/worsen how bioprinted patient-specific heart tissue contracts following a heart attack.
This approach also reduces the need for testing on animals and can predict better outcomes for individual patients.