Unfortunately, in today’s world, people who need a heart transplant need to wait for an undefined period of time to get an available and suitable organ from another person. This waiting time and waiting lists are a huge problem as it can take too long, longer than the individual may be able to go on without the organ.
But, according to the scientific community, the day may come when there’s no longer a waiting list because doctors will be able to place a functional 3D replacement heart or another organ at any time.
This 3D replacement will be made of bio-inks whipped up using the person’s fatty tissue. In April, scientists from the Tel Aviv University, Israel announced in a German journal that they’ve made an important progress in 3D heart printing.
The corresponding author Tal Dvir explains that this is the first time that someone has engineered and printed a whole heart with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. This is definitely crucial and exciting news.
But, There’s a Long Way to Go
Despite the huge progress, scientists are still a long way away from making this alternative version work like the real heart and transplant it in a human being.
The experimental heart is very small, around the size of a rabbit heart or half the size of our thumb. It doesn’t beat so it’s not yet able to pump blood.
Be that as it may, this is still amazing and remarkable progress. The team made the organic ink with fatty tissue from humans. They divided the cellular and non-cellular tissue components and made stem cells that they directed for growth into cardio or endothelial cells.
The non-cellular and programmed cells together made the basis for a hydrogel, that is, bio-ink which is used for the process of printing.
The 3D heart is still in the primary phase and they will have to find out how to make this heart function like a real human one and be able to beat and pump blood. Theoretically speaking, every printed heart will be made with ink from the tissues of the eventual recipient.
Since it’s made of their own cells, the rejection risk is smaller as it won’t be considered as alien as an organ which has been someone else’s.
Could We Expect a New Future in Organ Transplantation?
The scientific team will need to perfect their 3D heart and its parts in the future. If they do manage to do this, they will be ready for more printing and transplant studies with lab animals.
If these experiments go well, the next ones will be human ones. Dvir notes that it will probably be a decade before organ printing becomes available for humans. Nonetheless, he does believe 3D printing will be the future of organ transplantation.