How to mend a broken heart – with stem cells and 3D bioprinting.
Project: Developing better treatments for heart attack patients using 3D bioprinting and stem cells.
Lead Researcher: Dr Carmine Gentile
In a world first, Dr Carmine Gentile’s team are studying how to 3D bioprint ‘mini hearts’ from patients-derived stem cells to study heart attacks in test tubes. By mimicking the conditions that the human heart is exposed to during a heart attack, researchers will be better able to see the effects on a patient’s own heart tissue to potentially develop better, more personalised and targeted treatments and therapies. This could be life-changing particularly for patients that suffer from sudden heart attacks, one occurring every ten minutes in Australia.
Damaged heart muscle currently leads to heart failure and ultimately death. For patients with end-stage heart failure, the current gold standard treatment is a heart transplant which comes with a significant number of risks as well as limited availability.
Dr Gentile works to create bioprinted heart tissues generated by isolating cells from patients’ own skin or blood, which are first used to generate stem cells and then transformed into heart cells. Dr Gentile and his team have developed a new way to use these cells to generate personalised ‘minihearts’ that are loaded into the nozzle of a 3D bioprinter that can produce patient specific 3D printed heart tissue to study how the same patient would react to a heart attack.
Thanks to funding from Heart Research Australia Dr Gentile is now able to test if there are drugs or genetic conditions that improve or worsen how bioprinted patient-specific heart tissues contract following a heart attack. This means no need for animal testing and better outcomes for the patient.
Not only can Dr Gentile’s bioprinted heart tissues be used to study the effects of a heart attack in patient, but they can also be used in a test tube to identify unpredicted side effects of medications on the heart of a patient. For instance, some chemotherapies can damage a heart and make it fail over in some cancer patients. In particular, doxorubicin, a drug used to treat lymphoma and leukemia in children and breast cancer in women, is responsible for damages to their hearts even after 17 years following this treatment.
The equipment funded by Heart Research Australia for Dr Gentile helps detect these side effects using personalised mini hearts from a patient’s own cells within minutes. Preliminary studies have demonstrated that medication can be deemed safe for the patient or not before it is administered. This would enable a patient to be able to see if a prescribed medication changes the way their personalised mini-heart contracts, enabling them to potentially seek advice from a doctor for a safer therapy.