The possibility to 3D print organs: that’s by far the most interesting part of 3D printing. Of course there is an ethical question to be asked, namely: how far can we go? Should we aim at 3D printing ourselves? Important questions, but the reality is that we’re not even close to 3D printing ourselves, as that’s still something odd and futuristic.
Nevertheless, we’re getting closer, as doctors and researchers at the University of Louisville are now working on a system to 3D print a heart. The team expects to be able to print and assemble parts of the heart in three to five years, in order to test them in a human in less than 10 years.
This technique is called ‘bioprinting’ and the team tries to use cells from a patient to print out a new heart. They have already been printing human heart valves as well as small veins with cells. Using this method, it will be possible for them to also construct other parts. In addition, they have been testing tiny blood vessels in small animals, such as mice. A 3D printed heart would be called a ‘bioficial heart’, which is a combination of ‘artificial’ and ‘biology’ or ‘bioprinting’. As we just said, they expect to be able to print and assemble different parts in only a couple of years.
However, a lot of work still needs to be done. The team needs to get the cells to work together, just like a normal heart would do. It will also be difficult for them to keep the tissue alive after it’s been printed. But if everything goes according to plan, they will be able to test a 3D printed heart in a human in less than a decade.
They are not the only ones to experiment with bioprinting techniques. For instance, at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California, Dr. Darryl D’Lima is working on a bioprinting technique to print living cartilage into the human body. Moreover, Ohio students recently created a working bioprinter. But back to the heart, then: here’s an interesting video about the project: