A team at the University of Louisville has taken bioprinting a step farther by creating a working 3D printed human heart made of fat cells
Imagine your beating, pumping heart, working hard right this moment to keep you alive. Now think of a future where, if your heart failed or has a defect, you could get one that works better and lasts longer.
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but researchers at the University of Louisville have moved a step closer in this direction by using a 3D printer to make working parts of a human heart, using fat cells and collagen.
“We are utilizing printing and other biological manufacturing techniques to build these different parts of the heart,” Dr. Stuart Williams told TechRepublic. Williams is the chief of the Bioficial Heart program at the University of Louisville’s Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.
He added that the team has not reached the point where they put together the valves and the blood vessels, or any other products. They are solely focused on creating working pieces of the muscle.
Williams described the process as similar to building an airplane. Airplanes aren’t built in the traditional 3D printing sense, where you would start with the wheels at the bottom and build up. The parts for an airplane are made piece by piece, then assembled together.
Same with a human heart, which is a complex muscle. It can’t be built at once, so each part — the valves, large blood vessels, small blood vessels, electrical conducting system — is built and assembled together with a giant, intricate 3D printer.
To print the heart, Williams and his team use collagen and fat cells. One liter of fat from someone can give them a huge number of cells that can be directly translated to patients, he said.
“[We are] taking a piece of fat, isolating regenerative cells in the fat, utilizing those, then mixing factorized cells with collagen, and it prints.”
What’s even more innovative is the “six-axis” printer Williams helped build that makes the heart one section at a time. This “robot” can build the specific parts, then move them around and place them in their correct positions within the muscle.
The U of L lab is the only one in the world that has this intricate of a 3D printer, made specifically for bioprinting. Williams calls it a “bioassembly tool.”
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