3D printers could soon create hearts, arteries!

The development could one day lead to a world in which transplants are no longer necessary to repair damaged organs, solving life's most complex health problems.

Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering

Zee Media Bureau

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: In a significant breakthrough, scientists claimed to have developed a way to 3D print models of various anatomical structures, including hearts, brains, arteries and bones.

Heart tissues, unlike other body parts, are incapable of self-healing once damaged.

However, the development could one day lead to a world in which transplants are no longer necessary to repair damaged organs, sloving life's most complex health problems.

Using soft materials, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania developed a novel way of printing 3D objects.

By printing 3D objects inside a 'support bath', researchers 3D printed one layer of gel on top of another layer to create coronary artery structures.

“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, an associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Traditional 3-D printers build hard objects typically made of plastic or metal, and they work by depositing material onto a surface layer-by-layer to create the 3-D object. Printing each layer requires sturdy support from the layers below, so printing with soft materials like gels has been limited.

“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, a graduate student in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and lead author of the study.

According to reasearchers, one of the major advances of this technique, which termed it 'FRESH' or 'Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels', is that the support gel can be easily melted away and removed by heating to body temperature, which does not damage the delicate biological molecules or living cells that were bioprinted.

As a next step, the group is working towards incorporating real heart cells into these 3-D printed tissue structures, providing a scaffold to help form contractile muscle.

Feinberg's group has been able to implement their technique on a range of consumer-level 3-D printers, which cost less than $1,000 by utilizing open-source hardware and software.

“Not only is the cost low, but 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.”

The study was published in the October 23 issue of the journal Science Advances.

(Source: Carnegie Mellon University)