3-D Printing Paves Way For Rebuilding Human Heart

First Posted: Oct 26, 2015 12:02 AM EDT

Researchers have taken 3-D printing to another level, where they are rebuilding the human heart through 3-D printing, as well as replicas of arteries, bones and brains - all being printed out of biological materials, according to a recent study at the Carnegie Mellon University.

"We've been able to take MRI images of coronary arteries and 3-D images of embryonic hearts and 3-D bioprint them with unprecedented resolution and quality out of very soft materials like collagens, alginates and fibrins," said Adam Feinberg, author of the study, and associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Each year, thousands of Americans suffer from heart failure, then are placed on a waiting list to receive a heart transplant, since heart tissue is unable to heal itself once it is damaged. This new development could lead to a world where transplants are not necessary to repair damaged organs, according to a news release.

3-D printing typically entails building hard objects, which are made from plastic or metal, and the material is released on a surface layer-by-layer to create a 3-D object. This requires a sturdy support system below, however, and printing using soft gels is rare.

"3-D printing of various materials has been a common trend in tissue engineering in the last decade, but until now, no one had developed a method for assembling common tissue engineering gels like collagen or fibrin," said TJ Hinton, lead author of the study and a graduate student in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

Since soft materials, (like jello for instance) have a tendency of collapsing on their own weight, the researchers developed a technique where they printed these soft materials inside a support bath material. Each gel was printed inside of another, this allowed the researchers position the soft gel accurately while it was being printed, layer-by-layer.

By using this technique, the researchers identified as term called FRESH, or "Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels." This where the support gel could be easily melted away and removed by heating body temperature, which does not change the delicate biological molecules or living cells that were bioprinted, according to the researchers.

The researchers' next step is to incorporate real heart cell into the 3-D printed tissue structures, using a scaffold to help create contractile muscle.

"By using open-source software, we have access to fine-tune the print parameters, optimize what we're doing and maximize the quality of what we're printing," Feinberg said.

"It has really enabled us to accelerate development of new materials and innovate in this space. And we are also contributing back by releasing our 3-D printer designs under an open-source license."

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