St. Louis cardiologist gives his take on the world's first 3-D printed heart

"I wouldn't call it a game changer yet because I think it is so far off in the horizon."

Fred Bodimer
April 16, 2019 - 4:26 pm
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — Scientists in Israel have unveiled a 3-D printed heart — complete with human tissue and vessels. But it may be a while before it is ready for actual use. 

Researchers at Tel Aviv University released a video that shows a living heart being printed out. It's small, about the size of a rabbit's heart and includes not only heart cells but also blood vessels and other supporting structures. While the new 3-D printed heart looks like a heart, structurally, it's not yet functional and doesn't pump blood.

"We have been using 3-D printing in the medical world for some time now," said SLU Care cardiologist Dr. Michael Lim at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital. "But the materials these researchers used for printing actually turned out to be stem cells — which translated into an actual 3-D printing of potentially a working heart. And so this is almost science fiction from the standpoint in saying that you can actually print a new heart out of somebody's own cells to potentially use to replace the heart that's not working so good."

"That would be the ultimate goal where you wouldn't necessarily need a transplant from somebody else, but you could actually develop or grow a new heart in a 3-D printer from your own cells."

Potential uses for this new 3-D printed heart someday?

"We have a lot of patients who have congestive heart failure due to many heart attacks or other issues that have created weak heart muscle pumps," Dr. Lim told KMOX. "We struggle to figure out how to not only maintain their quality of life but their length of life. This is a potential way of helping those folks. But I wouldn't call it a game changer yet because I think it is so far off in the horizon."

More realistically, Dr. Lim says researchers may be able to print other simpler organs first.

"Let's say a kidney," said Dr. Lim. "The kidney transplant waiting list is very long. There's a lot of people on dialysis. So potentially, this is a way of addressing that. But the other thing to think about is something less than a whole organ. What about some of the things we currently implant inside of a heart or other parts of the body? Could we manufacture or pre-design implants that fit the actual spot we are looking at? Let's say a heart valve or a patch for somebody's heart that has a hole in it. Could we actually print that? I think that's much sooner down the horizon. It's still in the future, but a lot easier to do than an entire organ."

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