New Fiber-Infused Ink Enables 3D Printed Heart to Beat.

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Heart disease remains a global health challenge, with staggering statistics that highlight its deadly impact. In the United States alone, cardiovascular disease claims a life every 33 seconds, accounting for approximately one in five deaths, or around 695,000 people, in 2021. The urgency to find effective treatments for this widespread condition cannot be overstated.

Fortunately, scientists at Harvard University have recently made a groundbreaking discovery using a cutting-edge technology known as bioprinting. By utilizing a special ink infused with fibers, they have successfully 3D printed a functional heart ventricle that can replicate the beating of a human heart. This exciting development holds tremendous promise in the field of organ creation, which has struggled to keep up with the demand for organ transplants.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, thousands of individuals are currently waiting for organ transplants, and sadly, many will not survive the wait. In 2022 alone, over 42,000 transplants took place, but this is overshadowed by the fact that at least 17 people perish daily while awaiting a suitable organ. Bioprinting, which involves using real cells to fabricate living tissue, presents a potential solution to bridge this gap in supply and demand.

Although previous attempts at bioprinting organs have encountered challenges in terms of viability, the ability to create tissue that can mimic the functionality of a human heart represents a significant step forward. This accomplishment brings us closer to the ultimate goal of producing fully functional 3D printed organs for transplantation. Suji Choi, a research associate at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the first author of the paper, explains that the unique properties of the ink, called fiber-infused gel (FIG) ink, allow for the creation of complex 3D structures, like a ventricle, without the need for additional support materials or scaffolds.

The researchers published their findings in the prestigious journal Nature Materials, detailing their use of a hydrogel ink infused with gelatin fibers. Through precise control of the printing process, they were able to align the heart muscle cells in a specific direction. Upon applying electrical stimulation, the cells contracted in a coordinated manner, mimicking the pumping action of a real heart. Although the current version of the 3D printed ventricle is simplified and miniaturized, it can already pump fluid volume 5 to 210 times greater than previous iterations. This achievement opens up possibilities for the creation of heart valves, dual-chambered miniature hearts, and more.

Kevin “Kit” Parker, the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics and Head of the Disease Biophysics Group at SEAS, and a senior author on the paper, emphasizes that the FIG ink is just one of many tools they are developing for additive manufacturing in the realm of tissue engineering. Their ultimate aim is to build human tissues for regenerative therapeutics, and they remain open to exploring other methods and technologies.

The potential applications of fiber-infused ink in bioprinting are both remarkable and far-reaching. By addressing the critical shortage of organ donations, this innovation has the power to save countless lives. As researchers continue to refine their techniques and work toward creating more realistic heart tissues, the future of organ transplantation is looking brighter than ever.

We invite you to share your thoughts on this groundbreaking research. Do you believe that fiber-infused ink will revolutionize the field of bioprinting and pave the way for 3D printed hearts? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or connecting with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Stay updated on the latest 3D printing news by signing up for our free weekly Newsletter, which delivers industry updates straight to your inbox. You can also explore our YouTube channel for a collection of informative videos.

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