3D-Printed Patch Can Heal Hearts


If your heart is damaged, doctors soon may be able to patch you right up and send you home — literally.

A team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota engineered a 3D-bioprinted patch to help heart tissue recover from damage. The patch is a groundbreaking move towards helping heart attack patients, said Brenda Ogle, an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Molly Kupfer (left) and Brenda Ogle (right) are two of the researchers behind the 3D heart patch. Credit: Patrick O’Leary, University of Minnesota

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

The researchers first examined adult heart tissue to determine the size and distribution of various cellular features. Then the team incorporated the attributes into a 3D template to scan and use as a map for molecular formations within a photoactive polymer.

Ogle said the patch mimics the heart tissue in that the scan creates a physical structure by printing with heart proteins. The 3D bioprinting allows for the patch to be a close match to the heart tissue structure, which was surprising to accomplish, Ogle said.

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“We were quite surprised by how well it worked given the complexity of the heart,” she said. “We were encouraged to see that the cells had aligned in the scaffold and showed a continuous wave of electrical signal that moved across the patch.”

In this photo, the patch is laid over a mouse heart. Credit: Patrick O’Leary, University of Minnesota

The scanning technique the researchers used, known as modulated raster scanning, allowed for the 3D template of the heart tissues to map directly into the scaffold. The scanning involved with the patch was used successfully for the first time, the authors said.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time modulated raster scanning has ever been successfully used to control the fabrication of a tissue-engineered scaffold and consequently, our results are particularly relevant for applications that require the fibrillar and mesh-like structures present in cardiac tissue,” the authors wrote.

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The technique was also considered to be the first to be able to control the thickness of walls that separate adjacent channels within the patch. The thickness of the walls can be important due to the various contractions that have to be synchronized by signaling mechanisms that are along the wall, the authors said.

The researchers observed synchronized beating of heart cells in a lab dish. Credit: College of Science and Engineering, UMN/YouTube

Synchronized beating was observed as early as one day after cell seeding, which suggests that individual cells interacted with the features of the scaffold, and that interchannel coupling mechanisms were quickly established,” the authors wrote.

The team’s research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Lillehei Heart Institute, the University of Minnesota and more. Those a part of the team include Molly Kupfer, Jangwook Jung, Libang Yang, Patrick Zhang and Brian Freeman from the University of Minnesota; Paul J. Campagnola, Yong Da Sie, Quyen Tran and Visar Ajeti from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Jianyi Zhang, Ling Gao and Vladimir Fast from the University of Alabama.

The research study was published in Circulation Research, a journal by the American Heart Association. The researchers filed a patent on the patch.