The heart represents one of the most ambitious goals for researchers working to create 3D-printed organs within the field of regenerative medicine. The ability of 3D printing to build human tissue by laying down living cells layer by layer has already allowed researchers to create small chunks of organs such as livers and kidneys — often by using stem cells extracted from fat or bone marrow as the source material.Williams and the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute have started out by first using 3D printing to create individual parts of what they have deemed the “bioficial” heart. That piecemeal approach could eventually allow researchers to print and piece together a fully functional heart within a week.
The researchers are just getting started on this project, and we don’t know yet whether it will work. But the fact that parts of human organs have already been successfully printed is encouraging. A future in which we could print whole organs would do immense good for people stuck on long organ donation waiting lists, but, more importantly, technology that advanced would have near-endless applications. Medicine could be printed direct to patient, as could other medical tools and products, cutting out the middle-men who contribute to making our system so expensive.[Hospital technology image courtesy of Shutterstock]