Stem Cells: The Future of Organ Printing

A Brand New 3D Printed Heart

3D printing may well be the refuge of thousands of patients all over the world needing life-saving heart transplants. A start-up biotech company, Biolife4D, has developed the technology to print human cardiac tissue by collecting blood cells from a patient and converting them to a type of stem cell called Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells.

The technology intends to bioprint a human heart viable for transplant coming from a patient’s own cells. This will solve the issue of organ supply shortage and eliminating the rejection. The iPS cells can be converted to heart cells and used as “bioink” in a 3D printer. Recently, this technique was used to 3D print a semi-functioning miniature human heart. And so what has been the usage of such a mini-version of a heart?

The tiny heart has the same structure as a real heart with its four chambers. The reason is that it can be used for cardiotoxicity testing for drug companies and medical researchers to test what happens to the organ when it has issues with the muscle or with heart beats. The miniature heart is partially functional, designed to provide a scaled-down version for testing. It was not designed to be able to survive in an animal or human long-term, but to provide a better predictive model for cardiotoxicity testing as compared to animal models. This is already an impressive feat, but there are still challenges to face.

Firstly, the bioprinting process must be scaled up to make production of a full-size heart possible. The bioink used must closely replicate the natural extracellular matrix of the heart that provides the scaffolding of proteins providing the strength in the organ. There’s also optimization which is improving the efficiency of the cell reprogramming process. All these are working to make the heart survive in a test animal. It also requires finding a way to keep the organ alive after printing so it must be provided its own blood supply network.

For now the Biolife4D team is confident that given time these challenges will be surpassed. They say that probably, a full 3D printed heart will be available in 3 years.

The Future of Organ Printing

The future indeed looks bright for 3D printed hearts with all the leaps and bounds bioprinting is making. Soon a patient’s own stem cells can recreate his own heart.