James Richman
James RichmanArutz Sheva

Billionaire investor James Richman supports first medical breakthrough enabling 3D-printed hearts from Tel Aviv University

Futurist billionaire investor, James Richman, is part of the growing number of investors who are pouring in millions and backing the research and development of a medical technology breakthrough which has successfully enabled 3D-printed hearts derived from the patient’s natural cells.

Having previously linked to backing innovation and artificial intelligence initiatives, his interest and support in the medical technology industry comes as a natural transition, and much welcomed development.

Billionaire investor James Richman joins the growing number of billionaire investors backing the R&D making 3D-printed hearts possible, and potentially cutting the wait times needed for the real thing soon.

Who is James Richman?

He was born in humble circumstances in Smārde of Tukums region, Latvia to technology and psychology savvy parents. He began making money even well before he ran away from home at the age of 16 by initially having odd jobs to owning several successful ventures which eventually led to him setting up his private investment firm where he used his natural skills, often attributed by various sources to his Asperger’s syndrome, to scour the globe for the most promising and innovative investments.

While many of his investments are known to have been done in private and through closed-door deals, some of his most prominent investments include Tesla, Facebook and Uber.

His ability to sift through a myriad of deals and information and instinctively read through patterns has allowed him and his sophisticated clients to successfully navigate through the uncertain financial periods, particularly in 2008.

Family offices who have long been aware of his expertise through their trusted networks have recently come out to share how he has been their go-to billionaire in terms of diversifying and protecting their wealth, especially at times of political and financial instability.

Despite his private nature, he has been making headlines due to the growing interest and public nature of his investments. Most recently, Yahoo! News revealed that he and his camp are linked to acquisition talks with the equally discreet Barclays brothers in the sale of some of their assets. The sale comes as the British billionaire brothers empire experiences break up as they are offloading some of their assets, including The Telegraph, The Ritz Hotel, and Spectator.

The Latvian-born investor is also joining the growing number of billionaires pouring his investments in the research and development efforts in a quest to curb the number of deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases.

Sources familiar with the matter reveal that such massive investments by James Richman into the project’s R&D efforts will not only help ensure that the required resources and expertise are met, but it will also help increase the project’s exposure as a result.

Just days after the news of Richman and Barclays brothers talks, financial pundits and analysts are quick to point out that the banking empire, Barclays (NYSE:BCS), which share the name of the brothers, has experienced a positive shakeup from the said news.

Medical breakthrough: 3D-printed hearts

Researchers from Tel Aviv University successfully create a 3D-printed heart using patient's cells (Video courtesy: Washington Post)

As with other medical research, the project still has a long way to go before further conclusions are made. Also, while similar efforts have been successfully tested in the past, this is the first time that the 3D printed hearts comes directly from the patient, and not from external synthetic sources, which usually cause complications later on.

Scientists have already successfully 3D-printed a sample that used a patient’s cells, including one run by Chicago-based startup BioLife4D and Belgium-based firm Materialise which specializes in 3D printing technology.

It is therefore a progress and proof that someday, the process could be used to cure hearts in constructing new ones for transplants.

Growing global cardiovascular disease

In the United States alone, over nearly half of the population suffer from cardiovascular disease. Each one of these patients faces unique personal challenges to manage his or her condition.

3D printed version of a human heart will no longer be a distant reality, thanks to successful breakthrough by researchers in Tel Aviv (Source: Washington Post)

Conditions and causes differ from every patient but the grief is real. In many cases, a patient usually reveals that they feel a numbing sensation creeping on their left shoulder and nape, which is often followed by the left side of the face slowly drooping.

Most of them soon realized that they are having a stroke. In many cases, patients are fortunate enough when it does not turn out to be the life-ending episode. However, some still experience the loss of some of the functions of their limbs, as well as difficulty in speaking as a result.

Doctors point out to a number of factors that often lead to such condition. They often highlight lifestyle, diet, smoking, rest and genes as factors that lead to cardiovascular diseases.

A tremendous first

The senior author of the said research, Professor Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University is ecstatic to share the progress of the project so far and welcomes the much-needed additional funding into the project, “This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers.”

A biopsy of the fatty tissue that surrounds the abdominal organs was one of the processes involved in printing the heart. The extracellular matrix linking the cells were separated from the rest of the contents of the tissue.

These cells were programmed by the researchers to act as stem cells. These stem cells had the ability to transform into heart cells. The “ink” came from this material that was processed into a personalized hydrogel.

The initial experiments focused on creating heart patches from the cells and hydrogel. Later, it progressed into printing an entire heart.

The professor of Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, also disclosed, “At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit’s heart, but larger human hearts require the same technology.”

Such progress is a great improvement in the medical technology field. Before, researchers had been able to print only simple tissues without blood vessels.

As the project requires several stages of research and testing before further developments can come out of it, the additional support from billionaires like James Richman comes as a welcomed news not only by the organization, but also of the industry.

Positive implications

The technology is centered to combat the leading cause of death in the developing world, cardiovascular disease. Heart transplants are the only treatment available for patients who have end-stage heart failure. This further defines the importance of 3D-printing hearts as a developing technology.

Dvir emphasized that using the patient’s own cells is key to engineering the organs and tissues to curb the risk of organ rejection during transplants. “The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of these treatments,'' he said.

Ahead of the curve, but with more to go

According to the researchers, they plan to train the hearts to behave like hearts. “The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together.”

If Professor Dvir’s team is successful, they plan to transplant the 3D printed heart in animal models and, after that, humans.

“Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely.”

While we may have to wait a bit longer for the real thing, the ongoing progress and developments, growing interest and the news of James Richman being linked to the research does not only cement the project’s potential, but also provides the runway needed for it to continue further efforts, and potentially pave the way for us to see the 3D-printed hearts made available our nearest hospital branches sooner.