Scientists hope to build first 3D-printed heart

10 Apr 2014

Examples of two 3D-printed ventricle cylinders by the University of Louisville team. Photo by Dylan Lovan

A team of scientists is hoping to create the first human heart through a 3D printer, an innovation that could be a major breakthrough for medicine, since heart transplants are reliant on donors or purely artificial hearts.

The team from the University of Louisville in Kentucky has printed human heart valves and small cell-laden veins with the ultimate goal of being able to recreate the vital organ within three to five years.

To be known as the ‘bioficial heart’, because it will be a blend of natural and artificial material, still requires a significant amount of research and funding before it can be anywhere close to a final product.

From the teams’ findings so far, the biggest issue is making the cells work in unison in the same way they do in the heart.

This is vital if they are to create a heart that won’t require suppressant antibiotics designed to lower the immune system to accept the foreign organ.

That is why their ultimate goal is to use a patient’s cells, through the 3D printer, to recreate the bioficial heart. Even when the technology is developed, however, human testing is still estimated to be more than a decade away.

Stuart Williams, leader of the project and head of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, believes that once science and technology reaches this stage, the first patients to avail of 3D-printed hearts will be those with failing hearts.

Currently, hospitals do have access to purely artificial hearts, but a large proportion of children cannot use them because their chests are too small to accommodate the device.

According to Yahoo! News, Dr Anthony Atala, a doctor using a 3D printer to make a human kidney, says there are fundamental challenges to the technology so far.

“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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic