An article in Science (August 2, 2019) details breakthroughs made in 3-D printing of organs at Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers have utilized a new technique called “FRESH” to build stable collagen “scaffolding” which has proven challenging with previous bio-printing approaches. Building on this foundation and using the human heart for proof of concept, the investigators were able to print coronary arteries, cardiac microvasculature, a ventricle and a neonatal sized heart which was anatomically correct although the ability to contract and respond to electrical stimuli was not described. The printed ventricle began to visibly contract after 4 days and was eventually able to respond to a pace making device. The authors emphasize that the cardiac model was only chosen for proof of concept and that the same approach could be used as a framework for bio-printing other organs. They caution that there are numerous hurdles remaining to bio-printing fully functional organs including “generating the billions of cells needed to bio-print large tissues, achieving manufacturing scale, and creating a regulatory process for clinical translation.”
EHC NOTE: While we are not by any stretch of the imagination experts in 3D printing of organs, the possibilities implicit in the breakthroughs from Carnegie Mellon may revolutionize our world in the future. Maybe even fodder for a movie… Terminator 7, bio-printed and better than new? In the real world, imagine the ability to bio-print and then implant a customized heart for a patient with end stage cardiac disease. The same for kidneys, livers, lungs, etc. Talk about personalized care! This technology could likely be adapted to assist failing organs (a biological LVAD?) or replace diseased tissue. The implications for operating rooms would likely be profound. In the short to medium term, we would foresee an increase in case volume to surgically implant such devices. This scenario would likely help support inpatient surgical volume, which under the current reimbursement construct would be favorable for hospitals and help to buttress professional fee revenue for hospital-based anesthesia groups.