3D printers aren’t strangers to difficult projects. They’re being used by NASA to develop space-friendly repair parts cheaply and can even be used to print edible treats that are completely safe to eat. However, in a momentous occasion for the technology, researchers are currently investigating whether or not it’s possible to create a working heart for use in humans.
Successful So Far
The research team behind the project based at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, USA have been able to print human heart valves, veins, and cell structures using 3D printers and have commented that it’s possible to physically construct other important parts using other methods. They’ve also successfully tested their designs in small animals.
This isn’t the first time researchers have delved into the world of 3D printing as a means of improving the quality of human life. Roughly three years ago, it was revealed that it’s possible to build a working human ear using 3D printers. Although this technology isn’t used in live subjects as of yet, the results are certainly promising for those requiring it and it could be a matter of years before it’s made available to the general public.
Ultimately, the overall goal is to see a working human heart be created for patients that makes use of their own bodily cells, so that compatibility isn’t an issue when it is transplanted. With so much on the line, we shouldn’t expect 3D printed hearts to be readily available for decades. After all, the slightest error could result in death.
One of the biggest challenges that researchers face is getting bodily cells to work together with an artificial transplant. Of course, this is expected to be solved by using cellular information from the patient himself, but this sort of technology will require extensive testing. The first candidates who are expected to be approved for the project are children who require heart transplants, but are physically too small to accommodate adult sized artificial hearts.
Besides 3D printing, researchers are also investigating the idea that it’s possible to build a heart mould out of a patient’s own bodily cells. Preliminary experiments have shown that rodent hearts can be constructed in this way and have been able to beat in a laboratory setting. This isn’t the newest idea to hit the scene, either. Bladders and windpipes have been constructed in this way and have successfully been transplanted in humans.
While this is all exciting news, the innovative nature of 3D printing, especially when it comes to medical science, shouldn’t be sought after at the present time. There are simply too many variables that patients need to be made well-aware of before they’re subjected to this sort of advancement. Of course, the early test results are promising and it’s likely that 3D printers will have a home in medical science for years to come, but the technology is simply too experimental at the moment. It’s worth keeping an eye on, but we as consumers shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. That is, not until the proper tests have been conducted!