Science 3 min read

A Big Step Closer to 3D-Bioprinting a Human Heart

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Lab-engineered functional organs and living tissues could be a game-changer for the nascent regenerative medicine.

But 3D-bioprinting is an emerging biotechnology that’s still limited by the materials used and the printing resolution. Vascularity, or lack thereof, is one of the significant technical issues facing scientists and engineers.

The most abundant protein in the human body, collagen, is the major component of the connective matrix that includes muscles, skin, and other parts.

It’s proven very hard to replicate collagen scaffolds in the lab. But, a new 3D-bioprinting technique promises a massive advancement in the bioengineering of organs and tissues.

FRESH Method of 3D-Bioprinting a Human Heart

A paper in the journal Science describes a new 3D-bioprinting technique that allows anyone to make structural collagen scaffolds.

Called FRESH, short for Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels, it is the “first-of-its-kind method that brings the field of tissue engineering one step closer to being able to 3D print a full-sized, adult human heart.”

Researchers from the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who developed FRESH were able to overcome the many setbacks of existing printing methods. They used it with soft and living materials to achieve unprecedented resolution and fidelity.

In their experiment, the team demonstrated FRESH ability’s to replicate complex collagen scaffolds. They successfully 3D-printed five components of the human heart from capillary to full-organ scale, which validated their technique.

Using the FRESH 3D-bioprinting method, engineers deposited collagen layer-by-layer in a gel bath that supported the collagen until it solidified. The support gel isn’t a part of the collagen scaffold.

After the collagen scaffold was printed and ready, they brought the gel from room to body temperature. The gel quickly melted away, leaving only the printed object intact. In this case, it could be a functional heart component.

FRESH was developed in the lab of Adam Feinberg, a professor of biomedical engineering and materials science & engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

“What we’ve shown is that we can print pieces of the heart out of cells and collagen into parts that truly function, like a heart valve or a small beating ventricle,” says Feinberg. “By using MRI data of a human heart, we were able to accurately reproduce patient-specific anatomical structure and 3D bioprint collagen and human heart cells.”

This is a big deal for bioprinting technology because collagen is the major structural protein in the body. Beyond the structural support, the extracellular matrix (ECM) primarily made of collagen provides the biochemical network necessary for cells to carry out their vital biological functions.

Now, with the FRESH new technique, 3D-bioprinting the complex architecture of ECM is possible, and the potential of tissue and organ engineering as a viable technology has just increased significantly.

Read More: Quantum Archeology and 3D-Bioprinting Could Make us Immortal

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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