Health, Science

“Print Me Out a Heart, Please” Could Soon Be a Legitimate Request

human heart from 3D printer
We may soon be able to print new hearts from patients’ own cells using a 3D printer.
Image: Shutterstock

Here is something that really would have helped the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz:  in what amounts to a modern miracle, we will soon be able to print out 3D hearts.  Yes, you heard right… print them.  If you ask me, 3D printers might just be the coolest things on the planet.

Recently, these printers have been used to create toilets for people living in impoverished areas as well as ordinary items such as car parts and cell phone cases.  Yet, what is so exciting about them is that they can make virtually anything.

Wired Magazine reported that “Cardiovascular scientists predict it will be possible to use 3D printers to make a whole heart from the recipients’ own cells within a decade.”  If you know how long it normally takes to receive a heart transplant and how short the window of opportunity is, this is big news.

Ordinarily, the person on the list has to wait for somebody to die.  However, they also need to be of a similar build, age and same blood type.  It can take years.  If we are someday able to print working hearts from 3D printers, it could be much faster and safer.  Using one’s own cells eliminates the fear of the body’s rejection, a bad match and all sorts of other problems.

Stuart K Williams, who spoke to Wired, said, “America put a man on the moon in less than a decade. I said a full decade to provide some wiggle room.”  That means it may take even less time, as scientists are working on it right now.

The encouraging news is that 3D printing has already been used to construct other organs.  Dr. Anthony Atala, from Wake Forest’s Regenerative Medicine department, made artificial scaffolds that are shaped like an organ.  Once the printing is completed, it is coated with live cells.  The department is currently trying to build a 3D printer that can coat the printout at the same time as it is created – instantaneously.

The idea of creating a heart came from the mind of Charles Lindbergh, the man who flew across the Atlantic Ocean on his own.  He invented a glass pump that could keep a human heart alive outside the body.  That eventually led to doctors being able to perform heart surgery.

The executive and scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute at the University of Louisville, Williams, said he and his 20 plus team “have already bioengineered a coronary artery and printed the smallest blood vessels in the heart used in microcirculation.”

“These studies have reached the advanced preclinical stage showing printed blood vessels will reconnect with the recipient tissue creating new blood flow in the printed tissue,” he said.

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