3-D Printers Take on Challenge of Printing a Human Heart

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3-D Printers Take on Challenge of Printing a Human Heart

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Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 4:00pm


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3D printers have been used to make splints, valves, and even human skin and an ear. Now this innovative technology is targeting a major new goal: to create an entire heart, using a patient’s own cells, that could be transplanted. A heart built with a patient’s cells would sidestep the rejection problems associated with the current practice of using donor organs or a completely artificial heart, and eliminate the need for powerful anti-rejection drugs that have many negative side effects. Cells would be harvested and purified, then fed into a 3D printer that builds a heart layer by layer, with a computer model as a guide. 

The 3D printer uses a mixture of the living cells and a gel to shape the organ. Eventually, the cells grow together to create heart tissue. A medical research team at the University of Louisville has already printed human heart valves and small veins with cells, and has successfully tested tiny blood vessels in mice and other small animals. Hospitals in Louisville have a history of heart replacement innovation. The second successful U.S. surgery of an artificial heart was implanted in Louisville in the mid-1980s and doctors from the University of Louisville implanted the first self-contained artificial heart. Doctors have already used the 3D heart printer to build a model heart on which to practice a surgical procedure on a small child’s heart. The cost for that prosthetic? About $600. Look for more such high-tech, low-cost health care innovations in the future.

I’m John Howell for 3BL Media.

Video Source: 3-D Printers Take on Challenge of Printing a Human Heart