MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The University of Minnesota has announced what they’re calling a “groundbreaking” new study Wednesday that allows researchers to 3D print a functioning centimeter-scale human heart pump in the lab.

The study, which is published and appears on the cover of Circulation Research, could have major implications for studying heart disease.

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According to the university, researchers have tried in the past to 3D print heart muscle cells that were derived from pluripotent human stem cells, or cells with the potential to develop into any type of cell in the body.

Researchers would reprogram these cells to heart muscle cells and then use specialized 3D printers to print them. The problem was that scientists could never reach critical cell density for the heart muscle cells to actually function.

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In this new study, UMN researchers flipped the process, and it worked.

“After years of research, we were ready to give up and then two of my biomedical engineering Ph.D. students, Molly Kupfer and Wei-Han Lin, suggested we try printing the stem cells first,” said Ogle, who also serves as director of the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute. “We decided to give it one last try. I couldn’t believe it when we looked at the dish in the lab and saw the whole thing contracting spontaneously and synchronously and able to move fluid.”

Ogle said the new discovery could have a transformative effect on heart research.

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The full research paper entitled “In Situ Expansion, Differentiation and Electromechanical Coupling of Human Cardiac Muscle in a 3D Bioprinted, Chambered Organoid” was published in Circulation Research.