October 10, 2019
An Illinois-based biomedical technology firm, BIOLIFE4D, reached a watershed moment last month after successfully 3D bioprinting a miniaturized human heart. While not intended for human transplants, the mini heart was a major breakthrough in bioprinting and is expected to have broad implications for pharmaceutical testing.
“In the short term, it represents an opportunity to get this incredible technology finally out to the market,” said Steven Morris, the company’s CEO.
Built with a specialized bioprinter that layers human cells into a functioning organ, the mini heart has the qualities of a real heart and can provide researchers with a more reliable tool for drug testing. Currently, most pharmaceutical research uses animal hearts, which, Morris said, can provide irregular results.
Eventually, however, BIOLIFE4D hopes to bioprint hearts that are capable of being used for human transplants. Morris said the mini heart brings the company “one step closer” to its goal of bioengineering a viable human heart.
The company says that bioprinted human hearts capable of being used for transplants will have major benefits for people suffering from heart ailments. The engineered hearts, for instance, could eliminate the chance of a person's body rejecting a new heart. It will also limit the amount of heavy recovery drugs, which can produce illnesses of their own, a patient is required to take following a transplant.
“We are doing it using the patient's own cells, so they don't reject it when once it gets transplanted,” Morris explained.
Morris added that bioprinting hearts will also help reduce the shortage of available organs for transplants. “There are just not enough organs for everyone that needs one,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that roughly 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. annually.