We Now Have 3D-Printed Human Hearts
What a time to be alive.
June 17, 2019, Bruno Jacobsen
A team at the Tel Aviv University in Israel has achieved a major breakthrough by 3D-printing a heart with human tissue and vessels. In the future, this technology could be used to repair damaged hearts or to print entirely new ones, to be used for transplants.
Will 3D-Printing Be The Future of Organ Transplants?
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for approximately 15% of all deaths. For patients suffering from end-stage cardiovascular disorders, heart transplantation is often the only available treatment. But healthy hearts are hard to come by. And scientists are looking for a new alternative, 3D-printed hearts.
3D-printed organs have made the headlines for a couple of years now. In 2013, a company called Organovo produced the first prototype of a human liver using 3D bioprinting. The process takes cells from donor organs to create a material known as "bio-ink". The recreated cells are then laid down carefully layer-by-layer to create the structures of liver tissue. Although the process is proven to be successful, it is not suitable for transplantations and has been used for drug testing. In 2018, Dr Tim Brown and a medical 3D printing firm successfully created a 3D-printed kidney to aid a complex kidney transplant operation.
Earlier this year, the scientist team led by bioengineers Jordan Miller of Rice University and Kelly Stevens of the University of Washington (UW) has created 3D-printed vascular networks that mimic the body's nature passageways for blood, air, lymph, and other vital fluids. This innovation has cleared a major hurdle of printing functional human tissue, opened the pathway to complete 3D printing replacement organs.
Now we've come one step further.
Scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel announced that they have successfully 3D-printed a small scale heart, with blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Since it was printed using human cells, it makes it much less likely to be rejected by a human body than a heart made of artificial material or than an animal heart.
A long way to go
The heart, of relatively small size, isn't fit for use yet. It is the size of a rabbit's heart. And the question still remains is whether it could maintain its integrity and viability if scaling up to a human's heart-size. Though it can contract, the cells have not developed a pumping ability. "We need to develop the printed heart further. [...] The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together."
However, the researchers are optimistic. The team has planned to transplant the hearts into animals in a year time. Tal Dvir, who led the research, said "Our hope is that we will succeed and prove our method's efficacy and usefulness. [...] Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely."
3D Printing Will Revolutionize the Future of Healthcare
These breakthroughs in using 3D printing for organ transplantations can transform the future of surgery as we know it. In several online forums, people are optimistic and looking forward to a future of printed organs/limbs 'on demand'. But no one actually knows for sure how it would affect our lives as a whole. Based on our own research and study, here are a couple of our guesses:
1. Organ donation will become obsolete
Organ printing has the potential to significantly improve treatment methods and to save human lives. In case a rapid, safe, and cost-efficient serial production of organs is possible, organ donations will become nearly or utterly unnecessary in the future.
The impacts of being able to produce spare organs are not limited to the acute treatment of disease and injury, but also enables a proactive take on improving human vitality and prolonging human life.
2. The average human life span will be longer
With many injuries being replaced with 3D printed parts, we will be healthier and as a matter of fact, live longer in the future.
From the viewpoint of national economies, it is an interesting question of whether these technologies should be heavily invested in because they could help achieve essential savings in comparison to traditional medicinal practices, which brings us to the next point.
3. Drastic changes in the pharmaceutical industry
Because of the advances in the fields of AI, 3D-printing, gene mapping, and others, the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacy business will undergo drastic changes in the future.
If the 3D-printing of medicines reaches the consumer market or even households, it will cause a revolution in the field of healthcare.
Also, with human health become better in general, there might be diminishing needs for extensive health services for handicapped people.
4. Restore Fertility for women with reduced ovarian function
In 2017, a group of scientists successfully implanted 3D-printed ovaries to infertile mice and restored their fertility. The research team behind the successful experiment believe that artificial ovaries could help women who have had reduced ovarian function since birth or whose ovarian function has suffered from, for example, cancer treatments.
Besides restoring fertility, an artificial ovary could mitigate other health issues related to abnormal hormonal activity.
5. The risks of data security breaches from the inside
We mentioned about the aspects of data security in human biometric microchipping before.
And with the technology advancements of 3D-printed human organs, there is the worry that hackers and those spreading malicious software could start targeting implanted technology and data recorded on sub-skin microchips.
For example, insurance companies, creditors, and recruiters could monitor individuals’ health data from a distance, or such data could be systematically tampered with or destroyed.
We might be at the early stages of using 3D-printing in medicine. But, in one or two decades 3D-printers could indeed be found at several hospitals around the world.
From heart to lung transplants, to rebuilding bones or muscles, the potential of 3D-printing to revolutionize medical treatments is nearly unlimited. So it's with enthusiasm that we'll continue to follow developments in this area.
This article is inspired by the work of the content team at Futures Platform.
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