Researchers have made 3D printed hearts using silicone and even the patient’s own cells, but they have not matched the full functionality of real hearts and are not very good at it.
However, there is some progress in this, as a team at the Wyss Institute at Harvard has developed a 3D printing technique for long cardiac macrofilaments that grow into muscle-like filaments that contract. The new method mimics the complex alignment of the heart’s contracting elements (a difficult performance so far), while producing tissue thick enough to be used in regenerative heart treatments.
3D printed heart, a reality
The system is a refinement of WIF’s SWIFT (Sacrificial Writing in Functional Tissue) bioprinting technology. Humans have used human-induced pluripotent stem cells (that is, young cells capable of growing in multiple forms), as well as a collagen protein and cells used to form connective tissue. The combination forms a dense tissue that aligns along the axis that connects the micropylons. The team then picks up the resulting blocks of organs from the poles, uses them to create a bioprinting ink, and uses the motion of the 3D printer to help further align.
This is just a small piece of the heart. While the technology has a relatively high efficiency, much more needs to be done before a fully functional, 3D-printed organic heart is available.
The research group believes that their work could still be useful long before it reaches the milestone of the whole heart. 3D printed filaments could be used to replace scars after heart attacks or to create patterns. It may even help newborns with congenital heart defects. A damaged heart may simply no longer be the permanent problem it tends to be today.