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Bioprinted Heart

August 7, 2019

3D printing of living organs takes a step forward, with a new printing process reported in Science. The organs are printed out as a scaffold of collagen (cell matrix connective protein). The collagen is printed as a “bioink” of hydrogel (protein gel in liquid form) containing suspended living cells. The hydrogel needs a signal, usually light rays, to solidify. After the organ is incubated, over time the cells grow, replacing the collagen.

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Bagrat Grigoryan and colleagues used this method to form an artificial lung, complete with air sacs and ducts, and blood vessels. To solidify the organ material, they used an interesting approach of incorporating food dye molecules. The dye molecules absorb light at specific wavelengths to signal solidification. The dyes used include naturally occurring substances such as the turmeric pigment curcumin, or the blueberry pigment anthocyanin.

Adam Lee and Andrew Feinberg, and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon, printed out a 3D heart, the size of a newborn’s. They used a different set of methods (and patents of course) to print a matrix of collagen microparticles whose fusion is triggered by a pH change. They achieved remarkable size resolution, with voxels (3D pixels) of detail down to 20 micrometers (millionths of a meter). What is amazing is the complexity of detail of convoluted tubules that can be “printed” with these methods.

And yes, a heart ventrical does start to beat.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2019 2:21 pm

    I could use some new lungs. What are my chances?

    • August 8, 2019 2:37 pm

      Chris, I expect there will be a long between-time when things won’t work so well.
      The trachea transplant was a cautionary tale.

  2. Alexander Tolley permalink
    August 8, 2019 2:31 pm

    If this can be made to work reliably, I see it as a better solution for organ replacement than “chimera farming”. The organs can be made to match the old ones as exactly as needed, with guaranteed compatibility. Engineering can be used to “tune up” the cellular genome prior to cell replication and thence printing. For anything less than acute trauma, the replacement organ[s] can be ordered in advance prior to hospital surgery for replacement.

    If any of the aging effects are known, like defective mitochondria, shortened telemeres, these can be replaced or edited as part of the “tune up” so that the replacement organ will last a long time.

    Now if only we can fix brains…

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