An ambitious 3D-printed heart project aims to make a natural organ replacement for patients possible within a decade. But the researcher heading the effort also believes 3D-printing technology must harness the self-organizing power of biology to get the job done.
The idea of a 3D-printed heart grown from a patient’s own fat stem cells comes from Stuart Williams, executive and scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, Ky. His lab has already begun developing the next generation of custom-built 3D-printers aimed at printing out a complete heart with all its parts — heart muscle, blood vessels, heart valves and electrical tissue.
“We can print individual components of the heart, but we’re building next-generation printers to build the heart from the bottom up,” Williams said.
The heart represents one of the most ambitious goals for researchers working to create 3D-printed organs within the field of regenerative medicine. The ability of 3D-printing to build human tissue by laying down living cells layer by layer has already allowed researchers to create small chunks of organs such as livers and kidneys — often by using stem cells extracted from fat or bone marrow as the source material. [7 Cool Uses of 3-D Printing in Medicine]
Williams and the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute have started out by first using 3D-printing to create individual parts of what they have deemed the “bioficial” heart. That piecemeal approach could eventually allow researchers to print and piece together a fully functional heart within a week.
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