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Heartening Developments

Shreya Venkatesan
October 10th, 2019 · 1 min read

Most mainstream science is related to quantifying and exploring the unknown, but ironically, the boundaries of science itself are limitless. As you read this article, there are thousands of researchers all over the world, hunched over hypotheses, conducting experiments, and either celebrating small steps forward, or resignedly accepting failures. The topics of research might be so narrow that we cannot fathom how it could be important to us, however, therein lies the beauty of it, no discovery is useless.

Recently, in an article dated 1st August, a team of scientists (Adam Feinberg, Andrew Hudson, Andrew Lee, Dan Shiwarski, Joshua Tashman, TJ Hinton, Sai Yerneni, Phil Campbell and Jacqueline Bliley) from Carnegie Mellon University published a paper in Science regarding a breakthrough technique allowing 3-D bioprinting of tissues using collagen, the major structural protein in the human body. This remarkable find takes us one step closer to printing an adult, functioning human heart (which I’m sure most of this world could use). Named Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH), this has helped achieve the most accuracy using soft, living materials.

The heart, like most other organs, is built from specialized cells held together by an extracellular matrix, which is nearly impossible to rebuild using present biofabrication methods. But these researchers have shown that printing pieces of the heart using cells and collagen into parts that function, like a valve, or a ventricle is possible. MRI data of the human heart helped in creating the collagen and heart cells. Collagen starts out as liquid and deforms very easily, so the scientists put it into a support bath, formed the tissue layer-by-layer, allowed it to solidify, before heating it to body temperature, that melts away the bath, leaving an intact structure.

Photo via CMU
Trileaflet heart valve printed using collagen and Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) technology.

Heart valve printed using FRESH

The icing on the cake is the fact that the designs are open source, which implies that anyone can have access to low cost, efficient 3-D bioprinters. FRESH has varied applications in regenerative medicine, and though there is much more fine-tuning left to be done, this paper is a boon for patients awaiting heart transplants. All the Tin Men and Women out there, rest assured, you won’t need the Wizard Of Oz to give you a new heart, just a FRESH perspective.

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