Printing a heart

Coronary artery structure being 3-D bioprinted. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering

Sometime ago I read some quasi-fiction forecast about life, and life supporting technology, at the end of this century.

One of the forecast that most intrigued me, and seemed most unlikely, was the idea that people would go through periodical "body-checks", and if an organ was considered to be malfunctioning it would be replaced, as you replace a clutch in your car when it wears out.

It struck me as unlikely, and yet, we have plenty of examples of "replacements" today: from teeth to the hip joint and much more.  There are also transplants of several organs but still that does not look like an off the shelf replacement.

Now I have stumbled onto this news, a research aiming at creating the technology to print a heart, the same way we are thinking about printing any other object.

3D printers are more and more common and we have seen them used to print bones prosthetics, like a jaw, or a kidney, but none, so far has been able to print a heart. The challenge is to create a vascularised tissue with a highly organised structure, like the one required to create a heart.

The approach, and this is absolutely a novelty, taken by researchers at CMU is to print inside a gel rather than in air. The gel provides sufficient support to the various layers printed to create hollow vases, like arteries and capillaries.

We are still far from an off the shelf heart but the fact that this is now a goal is impressive. It clearly seems that we wont need to wait till the end of this century to see organ replacement become commonplace.

Amazing to see what 3D printer can, will do!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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