Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Sci Fi Future Is Here & Now (Part 11): 3D Printing Human Organs?

We certainly have come a long way with our achievements in human organ transplantation since the father of transplantation, Thomas E. Starzl performed the first human liver transplant in 1963 and the first successful liver transplant in 1967.

Portrayals of organ transplantation in science fiction films and books have colored our views of such procedures both positively and negatively. Consider the story-lines of the following examples;

A Gift From Earth, 1968 novel by Larry Niven
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962).
The Man with Two Brains (1983)
Face Off (1997)
Return to Me (2000)
Repo Man (2010)
Selfless (2015)

“In matters of the heart, nothing is true except the improbable”

Madame de Stael 
French Writer 
April 22, 1766 - July 14, 1817

CBS New York 
Lab Creates 3D-Printed Heart, Sign Of Future For Organ Transplants

How improbable then it indeed appears to be to learn that researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have recently managed to 3D print a tiny heart the size of a rabbit’s from human cells.

In a proof-of-concept experiment, the 3D printed heart has four chambers and blood vessels but there's still a long way to go until it functions like a normal heart.
The Process

To print the heart, a small sample of fatty tissue was taken from a patient. In the lab, this tissue was separated into its component cells and the structure on which the cells sit (extracellular matrix.)

Genetic engineering was then used to reprogram some of the cells to become cardiac muscle cells (cardiomyocytes), and others to become cells that generate blood vessels.

These cells (serving as bioinks) were then loaded into the printer, which had been programmed to print a heart, based on CT scans taken from the patient along with an artist's depiction of a heart.

It took between 3 and 4 hours for the printer to print the small heart with basic blood vessels. The heart was then incubated and fed oxygen and nutrients. The cells began to spontaneously beat within a couple of days.

The beating of the cells, however did not replicate the beating of a normal healthy human heart. For the heart to pump blood efficiently through the body, the cells need to beat in unison, not just individually.


This experiment could pave the way for the use of personalized organs or tissues that could be transplanted in the human body.

In the near future, a personalized 3D-printed heart might help to ease the shortage of transplant organs available to patients, not to mention reducing the current risks involved with transplanting someone elses’ organ and having the body's immune system rejecting the foreign tissue.


Before we enter that stage in the brave new world of medical advancements, we will need to find a way of being able to print a full-size, fully functioning heart. That would mean being able to print a higher-resolution organ — one with dense vasculature that could carry oxygen and nutrients through it. Such a very expensive process would require months of printing, an amount of time in which the cells would not be able to survive.

In this matter of the heart, however nothing can be considered as being improbable….

By BodyParts3D/Anatomography - Anatomography, CC BY-SA 2.1 jp,

©Chris Christopoulos 2019

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