PITTSBURGH--A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University has published a paper in Science that details a new technique allowing anyone to 3D bioprint tissue scaffolds out of collagen, the major structural protein in the human body. This first-of-its-kind method brings the field of tissue engineering one step closer to being able to 3D print a full-sized, adult human heart.
The technique, known as Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH), has allowed the researchers to overcome many challenges associated with existing 3D bioprinting methods, and to achieve unprecedented resolution and fidelity using soft and living materials.
Each of the organs in the human body, such as the heart, is built from specialized cells that are held together by a biological scaffold called the extracellular matrix (ECM). This network of ECM proteins provides the structure and biochemical signals that cells need to carry out their normal function. However, until now it has not been possible to rebuild this complex ECM architecture using traditional biofabrication methods.
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"What we've shown is that we can print pieces of the heart out of cells and collagen into parts that truly function, like a heart valve or a small beating ventricle," says Adam Feinberg, a professor of biomedical engineering (BME) and materials science & engineering at Carnegie Mellon, whose lab performed this work. "By using MRI data of a human heart, we were able to accurately reproduce patient-specific anatomical structure and 3D bioprint collagen and human heart cells."
Over 4000 patients in the United States are waiting for a heart transplant, while millions of others worldwide need hearts but are ineligible for the waitlist. The need for replacement organs is immense, and new approaches are needed to engineer artificial organs that are capable of repairing, supplementing, or replacing long-term organ function. Feinberg, who is a member of Carnegie Mellon's Bioengineered Organs Initiative, is working to solve these challenges with a new generation of bioengineered organs that more closely replicate natural organ structures.
"Collagen is an extremely desirable biomaterial to 3D print with because it makes up literally every single tissue in your body," explains Andrew Hudson, a BME Ph.D. student in Feinberg's lab and co-first author on the paper. "What makes it so hard to 3D print, however, is that it starts out as a fluid--so if you try to print this in air it just forms a puddle on your build platform. So we've developed a technique that prevents it from deforming."