A scientist named Stuart K. Williams is leading a team responsible for an extremely ambitious project; to print the human heart. Williams, who is the Scientific Director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute at the University of Louisville, believes that within a decade, perhaps sooner, 3D printed human hearts will be available for transplant.
“For bioprinting it is the end of the beginning as bioprinted structures are now under intense study by biologists. Dare I say the heart is one of the easiest to bioprint? It’s just a pump with tubes you need to connect,” said Williams.
Williams’ team includes 20 top scientists working with him on this project, and they have been making tremendous progress already. In fact, the 3D bioprinter which will one day be responsible for the first printed human heart, is already under construction. Once the printer is completed, the team can start testing out various tissue samples.
Printing out heart tissue is the easy part. It’s the printing of an entire heart with valves and blood vessels, appropriately placed, which is more difficult. Williams realizes the difficulties he faces, and has been making a lot of progress. Basically his team needs to figure out a way to get the printed cells, especially the blood vessels, to naturally organize themselves so that they connect to the recipients own blood vessels. This will allow the heart to continue to receive a blood supply, and survive. Williams describes his vision of how such a 3D bioprinted heart will materialize,
“A patient enters the operating room and tissue is removed (we think fat is the best source) and regenerative cells isolated. The cells are then mixed with solutions that contain extracellular matrix molecules and other factors and placed in the bioprinter. The bioprinter then prints the heart.”
Williams also believes that one day nearly every hospital will house one or many 3D bioprinters, and that the next step from a 3D printed heart will be repairing only sections of hearts. Considering that Heart disease is the number one killer in America, any progress in this field could be a major win for those looking to extend the human life span. In addition, once a Heart is printed, the 3d Bioprinting revolution will be in full swing, allowing researchers to advance all kinds of bioprinting projects. Discuss the possibilities of a 3D printed heart at 3DPrintBoard.