A Fully Functional 3-D Printed Heart Sooner Than You Think

Posted in Cardiovascular by Stephen Levy on April 15, 2014

The Cardiovascular Innovation Institute's executive and scientific director, Stuart K. Williams, PhD, has set his sights on a fully functional, implantable 3-D bioprinted human heart, which could provide a potential cure for heart disease.

“We think we can do it in 10 years — that we can build, from a patient’s own cells, a total ‘bioficial’ heart,” Williams, who is also a professor of surgery at the University of Louisville, told the Louisville Courier-Journal's Laura Ungar in an interview published on the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute (CII) website. The CII is a collaboration between the University of Louisville and the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.

Williams explained that building a heart involves creating five interconnected systems — valves, coronary vessels, microcirculation, contractile cells and the organ’s electrical system. Six months ago, he said, they created and implanted a portion of a heart and blood vessels in mice.

Because bioprinted heart will be made from the patient's own fat cells, the problem of rejection will be eliminated. Williams said they are still working on whether the fat-derived cells will be coaxed into becoming cardiovascular cells in the lab or inside the body.

An internationally-known expert in biomedical engineering, Williams' research spans the fields of cardiovascular bioengineering, biomaterials and diabetes research. He holds a PhD in cell biology from the University of Delaware, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pathology at Yale University School of Medicine.

Learn more about 3-D printing at MD&M East, held June 10–12 in New York. 3-D printing will be featured prominently at the event and on June 11, a full-day of conference sessions will be dedicated to the technology.

Before joining the faculty at the University of Louisville, Williams and his team at the University of Arizona received funds from the US Department of Defense to use 3-D printing to create lymph nodes, with the idea they could be implanted in the event of bioterrorism. To create the lymph nodes, accomplished in 2001, Williams and his Arizona team built a 3-D printer called the BioAssembly Tool (BAT) for about $400,000.

Williams brought the BAT to Louisville, to the CII, to concentrate on his main interest, the creation of blood vessels, cardiac structures and, eventually, a 3-D bioprinted heart to fight cardiovascular disease, which reportedly accounts for about three in 10 deaths in Kentucky.

“This was what killed my dad,” he told Ungar. “My dad was in congestive heart failure.”

“I think this will have an incredible effect on trauma patients … on the armed forces. You can imagine printing a jaw, printing muscle cells, printing the skin,” he said to Ungar. “Ultimately I see it being used to print replacement kidneys, to print livers, and to print hearts — and all from your own cells.”

Stephen Levy is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.