21 November 2013

The race for the heart from the printer

The heartbeat printed on a 3D printer can be heard in 10 years

Alexander Fedorov, KM.RUThe heart is one of the cherished goals that 3D modeling researchers in the field of regenerative medicine strive for

The ambitious 3D-printed heart project aims to create a natural organ replacement for the patient. The scientist leading the study is confident that 3D technology should use biological self-organization in order for the project to succeed, according to Discovery News (3D-Printed Heart Could Be Beating in 10 Years).

The idea of a 3D-printed heart was proposed by Stuart Williams, executive and scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. The essence of the project is to grow an organ from the patient's fat stem cells. The scientist's laboratory has already started developing a new generation of 3D printers. The 3D heart will have all the necessary components - the heart muscle, blood vessels, heart valves and tissues.

According to Williams, it is now possible to recreate only individual parts of the heart, but the laboratory is creating a complete organ. To do this, scientists will need to create truly revolutionary printers.

The heart is one of the cherished goals that 3D modeling researchers in the field of regenerative medicine strive for. 3D printing technology of human tissues, which secures living cells layer by layer, has already allowed researchers to use stem cells extracted from fat or bone marrow as a source of material to create small fragments of organs - for example, liver and kidneys.

Stuart Williams and the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute have pioneered the use of 3D technology to create individual parts of the heart. This step-by-step approach may eventually allow researchers to piece together a fully functional model of the heart from its component parts in just a week.

"I once suggested to my colleagues: why don't we make a heart based on the principle of a large airplane? That is, to divide the whole into several parts, determine the optimal way to develop them, and then put everything together."

But the creation of full–sized organs is still a much more complex and delicate process than the construction of the most advanced aircraft. Researchers have to work on the formation of tissues that include complex networks of small blood vessels that support the health of organs. Williams considers 3D technology ideal for creating smaller vessels: previously, he and his colleagues made large blood vessels for transplantation in operations without the use of 3D technologies.

3D printers can do bioengineering a great service, allowing you to work with the tiniest scales. Today, the best printers can only print millimeter-sized structures, while the smallest blood vessels can have a width of several microns. And 1 millimeter, as Williams explained, is equal to 1000 microns.

3D printing can bring researchers closer to the goal of creating a complete heart, but scientists should also rely on the natural self-organizing abilities of cells to bind vessels. The process of creating all the heart "spare parts" can take a week, and putting the whole model together can take 24 hours.

Scientists can work with tens or hundreds of microns, but the subsequent process will depend on a living cell, which will have to go through the entire biological development cycle itself for proper self-organization.

Most researchers do not expect the appearance of real whole hearts printed on a 3D printer in the next 10-15 years, but the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute continues to move forward and hopes to implement its project within a decade. Williams expects that a new batch of "bioprinters" will be able to launch its activities in December.

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