One Pittsburgh researcher is working on a project that could revolutionize modern medicine and impact millions of Americans every year.
Assistant professor Adam Feinberg, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, is working on a project to 3D print a fully functioning human heart, a technology that could transform how doctors treat the United States’ leading killer, heart disease.
The National Science Foundation awarded Feinberg’s research team $500,000 for a bioprinting project, which will research 3D printing to “bioprint” a functioning human heart using hydrogels and living cells.
Feinberg told The Daily Caller News Foundation that printing tissues and organs like the heart could have huge benefits for people with all kinds of ailments. While the technology sounds unrealistic, researchers are on the brink of major advancements.
“That’s the reason I do what I do,” Feinberg told TheDCNF.
So how would this work? First, doctors give you an MRI to create a 3D image of your heart. They take the image and use a computer program to design a new heart that perfectly fits your body. Then, they print a “scaffolding” for your heart based on those dimensions.
From there, doctors take your cells, convert them to specialized heart muscle cells, and “culture” the heart — allowing the muscle cells to grow around the scaffolding. The heart would then have to be conditioned to make it stronger and ready for use before it is transplanted.
Feinberg said because of the short supply, organs are rationed with long waiting lists, and people often die waiting for an organ to become available.
“It would solve these transplant issues and not just for the heart, any organ that is in short supply for transplants,” Feinberg told TheDCNF. He ventured an educated guess that once the technology is developed, this process could take as little as one month.
The benefits from this technology would not come solely in the form of transplants. Feinberg explained that doctors could use cells to print part of a heart, and then use that muscle for testing to see how a body will react to certain drugs. The printed tissue could also be used to “patch up” hearts that are damaged.
Feinberg is careful not to make concrete predictions, but he says that he is optimistic that there could be some kind of bioengineered tissue within 15 years.
“We hope that we can also spread the number of research teams throughout the world that are leveraging these kind of technologies for human repair,” Feinberg said.
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