The 3D printers used in the medical field compensate for two of the main problems related to transplants: the difficulty of finding available and compatible organs and the serious issue of "rejection". By creating 3D-printed organs, we could eliminate so onto the grueling time of waiting lists.
In addition, since these are “autologous” organs, i.e. derived from the same cells of the patient, the risks associated with rejection are severely reduced.
The first 3D printed heart was made a few years ago by Tel Aviv University, using human tissue. The heart, that the researchers at Tel Aviv University created, had working blood arteries and cells and it was about the size of a small rodent or rabbit. It was made using collagen and biological molecules. In fact, by taking some adipose tissue from a patient, and separating the cellular tissues from non-cellular components, the researchers at Tel Aviv University carried out a real reprogramming of cells taken from the tissue, making them pluripotent stem cells. Non-cellular materials, on the other hand, were used as personalized hydrogels, which served as the equivalent of 3D printer "ink".
This case helps us in understanding the complex functioning of 3D printers in the medical field, which represents the future of Bioengineering, leading to increasingly important steps for the future evolution of medicine and human survival. Infants with congenital heart defects, for example, will be able to receive 3D printed heart components. The greatest advantage will be that being based on pluripotent stem cells, the implanted part could grow in the patient, thereby avoiding the need for future transplants.
Such scientific accomplishments lead to the hope that there will be fewer deaths in neonatal age from serious heart diseases or deformities.
On June 8th, 2022, scientists from the Wyss Institute of Harvard University published a study demonstrating a significant advancement in biotechnology – reproducing a human heart tissue with a 3D printer!
This new modeling technique eliminates the hydrogel used in other previous methods “as a print base” of human tissues. It, instead, uses 1,050 building blocks of contractile organs. These blocks are made of a mixture of human pluripotent cells—young cells with the potential to develop into a variety of different cell types—collagen-producing cells, and cells specifically designed to construct connective tissues. Combining these two cell types generates a dense matrix that is modeled using a 3D printer.
Attempts to generate cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells, using 3D printed pluripotent stem cells have failed so far because it had not been possible to achieve the necessary cell density for these muscle cells to effectively "copy" the functions of the human cells.
Such engineered and 3D printed hearts will be modeled from cells taken from the same patient, thereby enabling “customized designs” according to the patient's specific pathologies.
This field of study has the enormous potential for treating cardiac conditions and congenital defects and will eventually extend to other organs and seek solutions for organ transplants.