Kentucky Scientists Attempt to Build Human Heart with 3-D Printer
Believe it or not, researchers at the University of Louisville are attempting to build human hearts for transplant patients using a 3-D printer.
The researchers aim to take cells from the transplant patient in order to build a heart that would specifically be transplanted to his or her body, which could eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs. The cells are purified in another machine, and then, like a standard inkjet printer, the 3-D printer squirts the material (gel mixed with the living cells) in a predetermined pattern. The printer uses a computer model of a heart to build it one layer at a time. Eventually, the cells fuse together to form tissue.
Lead researcher Stuart Williams believes that they may be able to build a full human heart within five years. It would be called a "bioficial heart," since it would be composed of both organic and artificial materials.
"The biggest challenge is to get the cells to work together as they do in a normal heart," said Williams. The team will also need to determine a means of keeping the tissue alive after it has been printed.
"With complex organs such as the kidney and heart, a major challenge is being able to provide the structure with enough oxygen to survive until it can integrate with the body," said Dr. Anthony Atala.
Although this technology sounds far-fetched to impossible, scientists have actually already built many different technologies using a 3-D printer. These technologies included fitted prosthetics and a split that helped keep a child's airway open. Doctors at Cornell University used this method to build an ear out of living tissue, and the Louisville researchers previously built human heart valves and small veins.