Scientists in the US are attempting to build a human heart with a 3D printer.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a new heart for a patient with their own cells that could be transplanted.
It is an ambitious project to first make a heart, then get it to work in a patient, and it could be years – perhaps decades – before a 3D printed heart would be put in a person.
The technology, though, is not all that futuristic. Researchers have already used 3D printers to make splints, valves and even a human ear.
So far, the University of Louisville in Kentucky has printed human heart valves and small veins with cells, said Stuart Williams, a cell biologist leading the project.
Scientists have also successfully tested the tiny blood vessels in mice and other small animals and Prof Williams believes they can print parts and assemble an entire heart in three to five years.
The finished product would be called the “bioficial heart” – a blend of natural and artificial.
The biggest challenge is to get the cells to work together as they do in a normal heart.
An organ built from a patient’s cells could solve the rejection problem some patients have with donor organs or an artificial heart, and it could eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs, Prof Williams added.
The first patients would most likely be those with failing hearts who are not candidates for artificial ones, including children whose chests are too small for an artificial organ.
Prof Williams said the heart he envisaged would be built from cells taken from the patient’s fat. But plenty of difficulties remain, including understanding how to keep manufactured tissue alive after it is printed.