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3D Printed Human Hearts Almost a Reality for Transplant

| Medical Technology | November 29, 2013

3D Printed Human Heart

An early prototype of a 3D printed human heart.

Scientists expect to to able to 3D print a human heart that could be used for transplants in the next ten years. A team led by Dr Stuart Williams form the University of Louisville have already created a coronary artery and have 3D printed some of the tiny blood vessels in the heart.

One of the major problems with transplant surgery is the lack of donors which results in patients having to wait a long time for a suitable transplant organ, or tragically never receiving one at all. Now 3D printing offers a possible solution which will eliminate donor waits completely.

Dr Williams explained to the UK’s Wired Magazine that he is leading a team at the University of Louisville’s Cardiovascular Innovation Institute that are developing special 3D printers for the creation of artificial hearts.

“America put a man on the Moon in less than a decade. I said a full decade to provide some wiggle room,” Dr Williams, told Wired.co.uk. He continued “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 expects the technology to advance to a point where they can 3D print the individual component parts of a heart using the recipient’s own cells, and eventually to be able to print a whole organ in three hours. The heart will include the muscle, blood vessels, valvels and electrical tissue and will need a week to “mature” after printing before being transplanted into the patient.

Dr Stuart Williams 3D Printed Heart

Dr Stuart Williams and his team have already 3D printed some of the small blood vessels in the heart

The patient’s own cells, taken from fat tissues, would be combined with a solution to form the “ink” for the 3D printer and would eliminate the possibility of the printed organ being rejected after transplant.

Dr Williams has managed to avoid a common problem with 3D printed organs – keeping them alive – as the printed hearts blood vessels should be able to connect to the patient’s own allowing the blood to flow through it and keep it alive.

Dr Williams has not tested on a human patient as of yet but has already successfully 3D printed parts of mice hearts. Watch the video below for an in depth look at this exciting project.

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