Chicago-based biotech company BIOLIFE4D had just made headlines today as it announced another successful creation of a complete 3D-printed human artificial heart. This achievement inches another step closer to the long-sought dream of organs-by-demand conceptualized many years ago.
The method used to create the artificial heart was to literally print the organ like a 3D printer. However, instead of using heat-sensitive plastics for molding, a mix of extracellular matrix compounds and “transformed” cardiac muscle cells were used to produce a sort of “bio-ink”. The muscle cells were derived from a patient, so theoretically the assembled artificial heart has a high base chance of being accepted as the patient’s own organ.
There is a big caveat, however. The heart looks significantly smaller than a regular, adult heart. In fact, BIOLIFE4D refers to it as a “mini human heart”. Also, while all the chambers inside a heart is represented, it is essentially non-functional. This means that the generated cardiac muscles are not “trained” for its function.
The creation of the mini human heart is technically an exercise in feasibility. The achievement was a developmental step before the company finally steps up to the challenge of actually creating a functional, full-sized, 3D printed human heart.
Historically, the concept of “printing” patient-cell tailored organs goes all the way back, to several years earlier with the concepts of Regenerative Medicine researchers such as Anthony Atala. In fact, just four months ago at the Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology in Israel, scientists 3D printed an even smaller human heart. It had functional contracting cardiac muscles, but it did not have enough power to pump blood.
As we get closer and closer to real manufactured organs, the urgency to find donors is expected to go lower. BIOLIFE4D has no specific deadline for the next big milestone in its endeavors. But we can be sure that progress will be made. That a newer and bigger, perhaps even functioning artificial heart will be developed in the very near future.