Bioengineers with small hearts and big plans

Biomedical engineers in Australia are working on a world-first project that could offer a real long-term alternative to heart transplants for patients with heart failure.
News Image
Image: Dr Carmine Gentile is using bio-inks to 3D print heart tissue. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Biomedical engineers in Australia are working on a world-first project that could offer a real long-term alternative to heart transplants for patients with heart failure. For many this would remove the wait for a suitable donor and the significant risk of failure after transplant.

The engineers are 3D printing 'mini hearts' made from a patient's own stem cells for testing and then printing patches to repair heart damage. The mini hearts - half the size of your smallest finger nail - are exposed to 'heart attacks' in a test tube to determine how the heart responds. By mimicking the conditions a human heart experiences during a heart attack, the engineers can identify the effects on a patient's own heart tissue.

Dr Carmine Gentile from the UTS School of Biomedical Engineering is leading the Cardiovascular Regeneration Group at UTS which is working with the Kolling Institute, part of the University of Sydney, on the project. He described how bioprinted heart tissue is generated by isolating cells from a patient's own skin or blood. This is used to produce the stem cells and then transformed into heart cells.

Then personalised heart patches are bioprinted using bio-inks developed from the patient's stem cells. The new healthy cells in the heart patch would be transplanted directly back into the patient's own heart to help it regenerate after a heart attack.

This is expected to lead to more personalised, targeted treatments and therapies with better outcomes for individual patients. Importantly, this approach will reduce animal testing in the lab.

Image: Dr Carmine Gentile is using bio-inks to 3D print heart tissue. Photo: Giovanni Portelli.