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Heart Makers

At the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, an ambitious 3D printed heart project is underway.  As reported by Livescience, “the project aims to make a natural organ replacement for patients possible within a decade.” 

Stuart Williams, executive and scientific director at the Institute, developed “the idea of a 3D printed heart grown from a patient’s own fat stem cells…his lab has already begun developing the next generation of custom-build 3D [bio] printers aimed at printing out a complete heart with all its parts – heart muscle, blood vessels, heart valves, and electrical tissue.” 

The Institute refers to this potential 3D printed organ as the “bioficial heart.”   Each component of the heart will be printed separately.  As Williams explains, “I took a step back and looked at my colleagues, and said, ‘Why don’t we build it like a large airplane?’…Separate the organ into separate components, figure out the best way to make the components, and then put them together.”  However, there are certain obstacles to the project.  One of the main ones is the fact that certain blood vessels in a human heart are only a few microns wide.  Even the most powerful current 3D printers can only print in millimeters.  (“1 millimeter is equal to 1,000 microns.”)  Despite this setback, however, Williams believes he has a possible solution: “we will be printing things in the order of tens of microns, or more like hundreds of microns, and then cells will undergo their biological developmental response in order to self-organize correctly.”  In other words, they will knit together naturally. 

Many experts believe this sort of 3D printing technology is more than ten years away, but the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute is working tirelessly to make that ten-year goal possible.  “Williams expects the next generation of ‘bioprinters’ to begin rolling out in December [2013].”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Livescience

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