While the number of people in need of a heart transplant is high, the number of available hearts for transplants are low. That’s a problem, one that researchers at Tel Aviv University believe they can fix via 3D printing. Recently, the researchers managed to successfully print an entire heart, complete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers—a marked improvement over previous attempts that only printed simple tissues without vessels.
The process of creating the heart started with a biopsy of fatty tissue taken from patients. The cellular material from the tissues was used as the “ink” for the print job. That allowed researchers to create complex tissue models including cardiac patches and eventually an entire heart. It should be noted that the heart isn’t very big — it’s only about the size of a rabbit’s heart. But the technology that made it possible could eventually lead to the production of a human-sized organ.
Researchers have been working on 3D-printed tissues for years, with the eventual goal of creating functioning organs for transplant. The scientists involved in the heart project at Tel Aviv University theorized that within 10 years, organ printers could be available at hospitals. It sounds like something out of a science fiction film, but if it can actually save lives, then it’s an avenue worth exploring.