Capital Cardiology Associates
Building a New Heart
Researchers are getting closer to a 3D printed heart
Scientists can 3D print human heart tissue now. Biolife4D, a Chicago-based company, announced the breakthrough at the end of June. The company is opening a new facility in Houston to print a human cardiac patch, containing multiple cell types which make up the human heart. It could one day be used to help treat patients who have suffered acute heart failure in order to restore lost myocardial contractility, the ability of the heart to generate force for pumping blood around the body. If this sounds amazing, press play to watch the video from BioLife4D that explains how this works.
“It’s amazing how quickly things are moving in this area of technology,” remarked Dr. Robert Benton, Director of Clinical Research at Capital Cardiology Associates. BioLife4D’s advancement showcases the promise of 3D printing in the healthcare field. The ultimate goal is to able to print whole, complex organs for transplants. That work is still decades away. The work that is being accomplished now is encouraging doctors that 3D printing can help save and improve patient’s lives in ways that, until this technology was possible, seemed like an idea from science fiction.
How 3D Printing Works
3D printers use a digital file of an object, like a child’s toy, and turn the whole object into thousands of tiny slices or layers that are printed from the bottom-up, slice by slice. It would be like baking a loaf of bread by the slice, then gluing them together. You can purchase a 3D printer for your home for around $100. All you need is a computer, printer, and design program. You could design, press “print”, go to bed and wake up the next morning with that child’s toy completed.
In the medicine, 3D printers are much more complex and are used in more advanced applications than a home printer, but the basic concept is about the same.
Building Biological Replacements
A 3-D print of an artificial heart valve
Image: Jonathan T. Butcher, Cornell University
Professor Jonathan T. Butcher and his research team at Cornell University have been working on “bio printing” technology to create precise, 3-D structures from living tissue. Using computer design programs, his team has been trying to map the precise geometric pattern that matches the heart valve dimensions. His team has been closely studying the very thin valve tissue that keeps blood flowing in one direction.
Their goal is to create artificial heart valves that can be used as replacements for patients with aortic valve stenosis. In a normal heart (aortic) valve, blood flows in one direction – from the left ventricle to the body. A healthy valve snaps shut to prevent blood from flowing from the body back into the heart. In a heart with AVS, birth abnormalities or the valve opening is too small, which prevent the heart valve from closing properly. This allows blood from the body to flow back into the heart, putting stress back on the heart. Treatment options include surgical and nonsurgical methods.
Professor Butcher’s team has created a printed heart valve that will soon be tested in sheep. Their challenge is to build a heart valve that not only simulates the heart’s natural blood flow pulses but also has the ability to “grow” or be a “living” valve that can handle the workload of a young or active person. This objective goes far beyond the science used in current prosthetic or replacement valve options.
Dr. Benton is excited about the advancement of heart bioprinting technology. After a heart attack, unlike the brain and lungs, the heart cannot heal itself. “Unfortunately once a heart muscle dies in a heart attack, it’s not coming back,” noted Benton. “We have medicines that help the rest of the heart work more efficiently. There are reasonable things we can do if you have had a heart attack to prevent the heart muscle from remodeling and becoming inefficient. But there is a point where we need these smart guys in technology to come up with a game changer for us.”
For the research team at Cornell University and companies like Biolife4D, preclinical testing and research in synthetic replacements rely on the talent of today’s scientist and the limit of current technology. The biomedical community looks to the future, working in the moment on advancements that will take years to develop. For heart patients today, Dr. Benton points to the benefits they have over previous generations. “Currently we can do an awful lot for patients, there’s no doubt about it. We don’t have those ‘magic medicines’ yet. I can’t tell you if 100 years from now you will take a pill and get a new heart. I do see the next level will be these new technologies that fuse your heart muscles back together, or stem cell muscles, to repair or renew damage or defective parts of your heart.”
Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.