With 3D printing making major advances in the medical field, scientists are now hoping to create a 3D printed heart with human cells.
The process would eliminate the need for donors, as well as make transplants more successful.
The goal is to create a heart for a patient; using their own cells. This project is ambitious and holds great potential, but scientists are quick to note that the first successfully 3D printed heart to be used in a transplant could be years away.
But that hasn’t slowed scientists from researching the project and developing ways to make it work. With numerous body parts already having been 3D printed: splints, valves, and even ears, the idea that a 3D printed heart may very well be in our future doesn’t seem that unrealistic.
As it currently stands, the team at the University of Louisville has already printed heart valves and small veins with cells, and can construct other parts with various methods. According to Stuart Williams, a cell biologist leading the project, the blood vessels have been tested in small animals –and proven to work.
The actual process for printing a heart would be similar to using an inkjet printer, with a needle squirting the material into a predetermined pattern. Except the “material” would be cells that have been purified, which would then be printed using a computer model to build the heart layer by layer. Over time, the cells would continue grow together and form the tissue.
Williams believes that the first 3D printed heart could be assembled in three to five years. The 3D printed hearts would be constructed using the patient’s own cells, and since the heart would be printed uniquely for each patient, small children would be able to be considered as candidates as well.