3D bioprinting organs, most of all hearts, is becoming useful for researchers and medical professionals all over the world. Although not quite yet a reality, the field is very promising. In this article, we'll cover some of the most promising 3D printed heart projects of 2018.
3D bioprinting is the use of the additive manufacturing techniques that combine cells, compounds and biomaterials to create tissue-like structures used in medical and tissue engineering. Unlike traditional FDM 3D printing, which uses filament or plastic, bioprinting uses “bioink”, which is a mixture of biomaterials and cells.
As you can imagine, this technology is massively important for the medical industry. Its primary use would be to save the lives of the millions of patients who are in need of a replacement organ or transplant. As it stands, around 20 people die every day in the United States waiting for a replacement organ. To make things worse, host rejection of the organ eventually requires another replacement. Being able to 3D print artificial organs using patients own cells can eliminate this major deficit in the transplant industry.
To date, a complete artificial 3D bioprinted organ has not been successfully made. However, many companies and research groups have been inching their way towards a fully functional 3D printed heart. Here are some of the most promising projects of 2018.
This year, Chicago-based company Biolife4D successfully demonstrated the actual bioprinting of a patch of human heart tissue.
Their process begins with a magnetic resonance imaging procedure used to create a 3D image of the patient’s heart. Next, a digital model of the new heart is designed to match the shape and size of the original.
The bioink is created using heart cells combined with nutrients and other biomaterials. These heart cells originate from the patients own via a blood sample. The cells from the blood are actually reprogrammed to create specialized induced pluripotent stem cells that can then be converted to create heart cells.
Finally, a 3D bioprinter prints the heart tissue, which then matures in a bioreactor to make it transplant-ready.
Keep in mind this whole process is currently what the company hopes to achieve. For now, they’ve been able to successfully print a patch of vascularized and conducting heart tissue. This means that the patch of heart tissue has blood flow and can contract like a real heart. The next milestones for the company are to create replacement heart valves, small diameter vascular grafts and a miniature 3D printed heart — about the size of a mouse heart — before moving on to humans.
Dr. Anthony Atala, the director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is a huge name in the field of 3D bioprinting. His team has already successfully engineered and transplanted bladders into living patients. In April 2018, they further published a paper describing how they 3D bioprinted functional and contractile cardiac tissue using rat heart cells.
The cells were suspended in bioink and printed into precise structures. This allowed for the cardiac cells to align into an organized structure similar to human heart tissue. Dr. Atala and his colleagues were even able to test the effects of adrenaline, which increases heart rate, and carbachol, which lowers heart rate. They found that both drugs resulted in the expected change of heart rate.
However, just like Biolife4D’s heart patch, there is still a lot of work to do before we get to a full-sized functional and vascularised 3D printed heart.
Although not bioprinted, in 2017 a team of researchers from Switzerland published a paper describing the development of a fully functionally beating heart 3D printed in silicone. Roughly the same size as a human heart and imitating the same function, their work demonstrates how we’re quickly approaching the ability to replace hearts without the need for transplants.
Just like a real human heart, this silicone version has left and right ventricles as well as a chamber that drives the pumping action via pressurized air. Unfortunately, the limitation to this current project is that the 3D printed heart only lasts for roughly 30 minutes or 3,000 beats before the material degrades and weakens.
License: The text of "3D Printed Heart – Most Promising Projects of 2018" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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