Heart transplant waiting lists could someday be a thing of the past. 3D printing technology has taken a step in an incredible new direction with the first complete printing of a human heart.
Researchers are apparently now using 3D printing technology to create human hearts using ink made with heart and blood vessel stem cells combined with hydrogel. These researchers used CT imaging to make the transplant material as anatomically correct as possible but still have some structural and functional issues to overcome. It's exciting to think about the possibilities, though as this could be the first step toward heart transplants free of waiting lists and organ rejection. What an exciting time in medical innovations!
Innovative New Direction
The research was funded by the European Research Council, the Israeli Science Foundation and a few other donors. This first effort resulted in a scaled-down anatomically correct human heart, complete with vascular system printed using two different bio-inks.
Researchers created the inks by using connective tissue cells reprogrammed into stem cells, which they then directed to become heart muscle and vascular cells. They combined those with hydrogel, a substance made of polymer chains that promotes structure growth and expands when exposed to water. The idea is to create hearts using a patient’s own cells, eliminating the possibility of transplant rejection.
Getting the Anatomy Right
Researchers began by printing a patch that could potentially replace a left ventricle. They used CT imaging of a patient’s actual heart, getting as much actual detail on the patient’s vascular system as they could. For blood vessels too small to be picked up by CT scans, the researchers relied on known anatomy models, adding them to the scanned images electronically.
Other Remaining Hurdles
Researchers will need to overcome some consistency issues with the current formulation if they’re going to print a full-size usable human heart. They’ll also need to perfect long-term culturing techniques if they want to ensure the heart’s structural integrity and its ability to function. They may need to develop new hardware and improve upon certain procedures along the way. More research will be necessary, obviously, but this appears by all accounts to be a huge step in the right direction.
This could spark the beginning of a new era in modern medicine. Transplantation without waiting lists or organ rejections could transform the survival rates of countless people. Keep your eyes peeled for future developments on this potentially life-saving innovation.