University of Louisville researchers claim that they are close to building a human heart with a 3D printer.
The big idea is to create a new heart for a patient with his or her own cells that could be transplanted. It could be a decade away yet, but it does mean that Sci-Fi nightmares about building a clone for spare parts probably will not happen.
Researchers have already used 3D printers to make splints, valves and even an ear. So far the University of Louisville team has printed human heart valves and small veins with cells, and they can construct some other parts with other methods.
Stuart Williams, a cell biologist leading the project, said they have successfully tested the tiny blood vessels in mice and other small animals.
Williams believes with a bit of luck they can print parts and assemble an entire heart in three to five years.
The biggest challenge is to get the cells to work together as they do in a normal heart, but ultimately an organ built from a patient's cells could solve the rejection problem some patients have with donor organs or an artificial heart, and it could eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs.
It would also mean that those whose hearts are failing but are not candidates for artificial hearts could have options.
Williams said the heart he envisions would be built from cells taken from the patient's fat which is a little ironic given that it is probably too many fat cells which created the heart problems in the first place.
The 3D printer works in much the same way an inkjet printer does, with a needle that squirts material in a predetermined pattern.