The model was carefully designed and built through additive manufacturing printers. Gradually, with modifications, this technology could dramatically revolutionize the medical field, especially with heart disorder treatment.
Adam Feinberg and his team at the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University successfully developed a bio-printed 3D model of a human heart using the Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) technique. This technique looks to print biological replications of organs using soft and flexible materials like alginate made from seaweed. Due to its striking resemblance to the human tissue structure, alginate emerged as the most optimal bio-ink (materials to produce artificial live tissue) to print. Other prospects like biological hydrogels suffered poor rigidity and risked a collapse mid-print. Conversely, alginate passed the test for rigidity.
How is it manufactured?
The building procedure of a 3D printed model begins with a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan (MRI) of the patient’s heart. Gradually, the scan divides the image into horizontal layers that translate into codes for the printer’s benefit.
Then, a needle-like nozzle steadily shapes the model out of alginate held by a gelatin support bath. After the printing, the gelatin support bath gently melts in an incubator at an approximate temperature of 37°C, leaving behind only the 3D printed heart.
Why do we need 3D-printed heart surgery?
With further refinements in this technology, 3D Heart printed surgery could transform heart disorder treatment two-fold.
A 3D model of the patient’s heart expands room for preparation before the surgery. Older educational tools for surgeons, such as plastic or rubber heart models, had a limited scope of interaction before surgery. These models were helpful in planning but lacked the personalized faults in each patient’s heart. Also, unlike FRESH hearts, they did not boast tissue-like flexibility.
Now, surgeons may perform simulation-based surgeries to discern the best course of action before the surgery. As an extension of its educational purpose, surgeons in training can now learn through simulations instead of performing surgeries with minimal experience.
Success & accessibility
Potentially, with a more accurate image of the patient’s heart before the surgery and thoroughly prepared surgical interventions, the success of these procedures should increase. The 3D model is still not an entirely functional beating heart. Scaling printed arteries to real ones is very complicated despite the minute similarities.
However, for the success of this surgery type to increase, it is crucial to understand its accessibility, considering the determinants of affordability and availability.
In India, Genesis Foundation which is a congenital heart Foundation supporting the treatment of underprivileged children born with Congenital Heart Defects supported a similar surgery like this, read here 🡪 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/3d-printing-aids-doctors-in-heart-surgery/articleshow/65791550.cms
Theoretically, printing hearts with collagen (structural body tissue) would enhance the accuracy since humans comprise heavy amounts of collagen. However, the researchers considering actual human tissue as bio-ink such as collagen face an expensive challenge.
According to The Wired, a heart printed in collagen costs over 1,50,000 rupees. Currently, printing a FRESH heart takes an average of 4 days. If researchers were to use living cells, many would die. The current scope of this technology can only produce a fraction of the live cells it would take to print collagen hearts. Therefore, the reach and availability of the product have a long way to go.
Overall, with the necessary refinements, the development of 3D heart-printed surgeries, supported by congenital heart Foundations spread an optimistic view of treatment for heart defects.