As 3D printing continues to pave a new future for the medical industry—and those receiving care—personalized medicine is highlighted as one of the major benefits. Due to the customizations allowed by the technology as items like 3D printed implants can be completely fitted to patients, and with their own cells promoting regrowth even, as in 3D printed cartilage for an example, the one-size-fits-all concept is quickly fading in this industry—as well as many others.
As is continually the case in 3D printing and bioprinting in particular, however, researchers just keep moving to the next level, almost as if hopscotching at an accelerated pace from one amazing discovery and invention to the next. And because of this, we are now seeing not just personalized medicine—but that which is activated in real time too.
Not only are patients and doctors going to be able to enjoy the security—and convenience—of real-time monitoring but a new innovation centers all of this around the heart. If you’ve ever had an issue with your heart or know anyone who has, you of course realize how incredibly frightening an acute episode of nearly any sort can be. A new bioprinted patch offers not only a miraculous new material but a multi-tasking breakthrough in bionics that allows for monitoring and medicating.
This amazing new progress, which should have a lot of cardiac patients feeling optimistic, was recently outlined by the Tel Aviv University researchers responsible in ‘Engineered hybrid cardiac patches with multifunctional electronics for online monitoring and regulation of tissue function.’ Authored by Ron Feiner, Leeya Engel, Sharon Fleischer, Maayan Malki, Idan Gal, Assaf Shapira, Yosi Shacham-Diamand, and Tal Dvir, the paper was published in Nature Materials on March 14th.
“… we introduce a conceptually new approach, where a dedicated freestanding electronic network is built within an engineered tissue and used to collect data from its surroundings,” state the researchers in their paper. “When required, the electronics can be remotely manipulated to activate the growing tissue, by providing electrical stimulation, and/or by controlling the release of drugs within the3D microenvironment to affect the engineered tissue or the host.”
This 3D heart patch can replace organic tissue, and that’s monumental in itself, but it can also:
- Release drugs
- Allow doctors to check vitals in real time
- Contract and expand to mimic heart tissue
Made of a flexible, mesh material, the bionic patch—also being referred to as the ‘cyborg heart patch’—was designed with a thick tissue for insertion in the human body—and one that can hold sensory electronics that would be able to stimulate the heart. It also includes electroactive polymers which work to release medication.
“Such polymers are ideal for designing efficient drug delivery systems, where an ‘on/off ’ drug release mechanism is required or for releasing the entire payload at once,” state the researchers in their paper. “Here, we chose to focus on two types of polymer; one can store and release positively charged proteins, and the other can release negatively charged small molecules.”
“Overall, the ability to remotely release drugs on demand within an engineered tissue through the built-in electronics represents a significant improvement in tissue engineering, allowing better control over tissue growth or promoting better integration after transplantation,” stated the researchers in their paper.
The project was led by Professor Tal Dvir and PhD student Ron Feiner of TAU’s Department of Biotechnology.
The patch overall is of course an amazing invention, but online monitoring, reporting, and activation are going to be the true game changers here, and would logically translate to application for other organs. This new treatment system has been in the works for five years now as Dr. Dvir and his team at TAU have worked toward alternative—and quite futuristic—solutions in cardiac research. They specialize in using nanotechnological tools, and have put them to use in looking for new ways to help treat patients whose hearts have been damaged by disease.
‘Until now, we could only engineer organic cardiac tissue, with mixed results,” said Dr. Dvir. “Now we have produced viable bionic tissue, which ensures that the heart tissue will function properly.”
As research and development with the new patch commenced, the team needed first to make sure that the patch would be suitable for internal use—thus the integration of organic material. Dr. Dvir and his team also realized that an optimum way for release of the medication would be application directly to the heart.
‘Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well,’ Dr. Dvir said. ‘His physician will be able to log onto his computer and [review] this patient’s file — in real time.”
This new process can offer not only convenience and better quality of life, but obviously could save lives as well—especially crucial for those who are on the transplant waiting list. With the option of being able to review data from within the body, the cardiologist can make a clear assessment, intervene, and activate medication. All of this is happening from afar—adding a very new angle to the idea of what perhaps we used to know as house calls.
Even more progressive is the idea that eventually the patch may become ‘smart’ enough to regulate processes.
“Looking forward, the technology can be used in the future to notify physicians of a patient’s health condition and for subsequently remotely triggering regenerative processes. As cardiac performance will be recorded over time, physicians could follow heart regeneration in real time, providing new means for disease management,” state the researchers in their paper. “Moreover, the ability to integrate a feedback loop into the system will generate self-regulating cardiac patches, where physician assistance may not even be required.”
As most of us are aware, much of bioprinting does certainly have one dedicated end goal: the creation of viable organs. While that often sounds as if it is so close, yet oh still so far away, researchers are extremely motivated to get to that point because it would very possibly mean an end to the excruciating wait lists for transplants—with, again as most of us are aware—too many patients dying before they receive a donor organ. And this is another terrifying thing, if you’ve known anyone sick and waiting—in a process which can often be expected to last weeks, months, or even years. The outcome can be grim, and the statistics can be frightening, with up to 25% of those on the heart transplant list expiring before they receive a new organ.
With so many patients in a precarious state, in a system that has become the norm, it’s easy to see why researchers are so committed to finding a way to change things. This new bionic patch offers clear potential for a better outcome regarding those waiting for new hearts.
“It’s very science fiction, but it’s already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way,” said Dr. Dvir.
Do you think something like this will indeed spread to other applications? Discuss in the Bioprinted Cyber Patch forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source: Daily Mail]