NSLHD Year in Review 2019


Scientists at the Kolling Institute of Medical Research are using 3D “mini-hearts” – made of patients’ own cells – to test the damaging side effects of drugs on their heart – or “cardiotoxic effects”- before they are given to the patient. The trial is being conducted by researchers at the Kolling Institute of Medical Research, located at the Royal North Shore Hospital campus, and could revolutionise the way patients are given new drugs. Using a 3D bioprinter, scientists are able to create “mini-hearts’’ which have been generated with specially designed bio-inks made of a person’s cells. Those mini hearts can mimic the blood vessels and heart muscle, allowing researchers to test the effects of some drugs and whether damage is caused to the heart and therefore prevented. Lead scientist, Dr Carmine Gentile, said a number of drugs were being tested on the mini-hearts to predict their effects on the heart and how big the damage caused. “Some of the medications to treat complex diseases such as cancer are well known to be toxic on our heart, said Dr Gentile. “This is a pressing problem that we should overcome. Some patients that survived cancer may

Dr Carmine Gentile (second from right) and team of researchers at Kolling Institute of Medical Research

die because their medication can become toxic on their heart. In particular, some medications such as “doxorubicin” may lead to a failing heart in paediatric patients up to 17 years following their cancer treatment. However, this is not true for all these patients and we have been able to study these toxic effects in a test tube using our 3D mini-hearts. “Now we have a way to generate personalised mini-hearts. These are used to control how the heart muscle of a patient contracts in a test tube after a potential cardiotoxic agent. Our aim is to provide different options to patients that may be more susceptible to develop heart failure following exposure to potentially cardiotoxic agents. In this way, the doctor may choose to give an alternative, safer medication to their patients.” Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australia and worldwide, with a heart attack occurring every ten minutes. While shortage of hearts for transplantation and long waiting

lists characterise the life of thousands of Australian patients, Dr Gentile and his team have been testing a custom-made 3D bioprinter – which prints actual heart cells – for several years with the aim of one day being able to transplant these cells into damaged human hearts and let the heart contract properly again. While treating patients using newly bioprinted heart tissues is a pressing goal requiring further pre-clinical testing, the use of the same technology has been optimised to test for safety of drugs and prevent the development of heart disease. The research, including the 3D bioprinter, is being funded by the Ian Potter Foundation, the Sydney Medical School Foundation, Heart Research Australia and the Commercial Development and Industry Partnership, at

The University of Sydney. If successful, it is hoped this

technology and research could be quickly translated from bench to bed side and become a common practice for patients in the next five years.


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