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PEDESTRIAN.TV has teamed up with Play For Purpose. $5 from every raffle ticket supports an Aussie charity you're passionate about to help them continue doing incredible work in the community.

It’s easy to get down about the current state of the world. However, there are always little glimmers of hope in the form of good folks doing incredible things for the state of humanity — which is where Dr Carmine Gentile comes into the picture.

Dr Gentile is an internationally recognised expert in 3D bioprinting and stem cell technologies and currently leads a team of researchers at the Cardiovascular Regeneration Group with the support of Heart Research Australia.

While 3D bioprinting may seem like a lofty phrase to the everyday person, it’s one of the most groundbreaking modern advancements in treating and preventing cardiovascular diseases. To put it simply, it’s a new way to study and help prevent a heart attack before it leads to heart failure and reduce the need for a heart transplant.

“I focussed on bioprinting of the heart tissue as heart disease is the leading cause of death globally and has also impacted my own family. Despite the latest advancement in cardiovascular research, we are trying our best to make this novel technology available to patients in the shortest time possible,” says Dr Gentile, explaining why he’s so passionate about the field of study. 

We spoke to Dr Gentile to find out what exactly 3D bioprinting is, how it’s helping save Aussie lives and what you can do to get involved.

PEDESTRIAN.TV: What exactly is 3D Bioprinting, and how does it work?

Dr Carmine Gentile: It is the use of 3D printing techniques to create tissues that naturally form within the human body. This technology combines cells and gels high in content of water (so-called ‘hydrogels’) that mimic the environment typical of the human body.

Every cell in our body is surrounded by a mix of molecules that characterise that specific tissue. Hydrogels mimic this tissue-specific activity to recreate similar conditions in a test tube. When mixed, cells and hydrogels create the biological ink, which we call “bio-ink”. Then the bio-ink is printed through the 3D bioprinter according to the geometry we decide, similar to what a 3D printer does with plastic or metals. 

Several considerations are needed to keep cells alive during and after the printing process. Once 3D bioprinted, tissues can then be used in a test tube to test drugs for toxic effects to mimic a disease that happens in the human body (in our laboratory, we developed “a heart attack in a test tube” using this technology). In some cases, they could be transplanted into patients.

What have been the most exciting findings so far? And what has surprised you the most in your discoveries?

Recently, we demonstrated with one of my students that our technology could not only be safe but also improve how a patient’s heart contracts following a severe heart attack. Damaged heart tissues after a heart attack cannot pump enough blood through the body of a patient, a condition normally defined as ‘heart failure’.

By testing our 3D bioprinted heart tissues in preclinical studies, we were very pleased to observe that this improved how the heart pumps blood in a study conducted last year despite the limitations due to the lockdown.

What will extra funding for Heart Research Australia go towards?

Heart Research Australia supports ‘seed’ funding, allowing researchers like myself to turn their innovative, ‘out of the notebook’ ideas into reality. As this type of first-stage research does not qualify for government funding, receiving funding can be challenging, time-consuming, and incredibly competitive. Having organisations like Heart Research Australia fund this first stage of research for our projects enables us to achieve solid results and be eligible to apply for larger government grants.

Without the support of Heart Research Australia, many ideas would otherwise not have been able to be investigated had we not received the support from their generous donors. This extra funding will help Heart Research Australia:

  • Fund a dedicated team of cardiologists and researchers working on a range of life-saving projects to identify better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease.
  • Support emerging researchers through the funding of scholarships.
  • Provide heart researchers with the equipment and tools they need to find medical breakthroughs in heart disease.

How can the average Aussie support the cause?

You can buy a Play for Purpose raffle ticket — $5 from every $10 ticket sold goes directly to Heart Research Australia to help fund life-saving heart research. Play for Purpose is a great opportunity for anyone to support much-needed medical breakthroughs in heart disease whilst also having the opportunity to win some prizes. The income received via Play for Purpose allows Heart Research Australia to effectively plan, budget and invest in future life-saving innovative heart research studies. 

You can also get a group of friends together and organise a fundraising event or even participate in Heart Research Australia’s annual REDFEB fundraising campaign!

Image: Supplied