Apr. 16, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve been hearing a great deal about the possibility of 3D printed organs, few would have ever expected that we would be seeing an actual “beating heart cells” that was made possible thanks to additive manufacturing.  The “organoids” as they’re called, are 3D printed and beating cardiac cells which are a part of a groundbreaking research program from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which is currently focusing on creating synthetic human organs.

"The heart organoid beats because it contains specialized cardiac cells and because those cells are receiving the correct environmental cues," said Ivy Mead, a Wake Forest graduate student and member of team conducting the research on organoids.

"We give them a special medium and keep them at the same temperature as the human body, and that makes them beat. We can also stimulate the miniature organ with electrical or chemical cues to alter the beating patterns. Also, when we grow them in three-dimensions it allows for them to interact with each other more easily, as they would in the human body."

Mead and the rest of the team of researchers at Wake Forest create the organoids by genetically modifying adult human skin cells into induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cell, which are then reprogrammed to produce the organoids.  The microscopic organoids measure in at just .25 millimeters in diameter.  

Although the project is focused on creating a network of multiple lab-grown organs to replicate the function of real organs that could be used as regenerative body parts, it is part of a larger project that is focused on creating organs that are able to test the human body’s response to contagions including the Ebola virus or harmful gases such as sarin and ricin.  The program, called Body-on-a-Chip, is funded in part through the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center and is part of a larger effort by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which has a vested interest in the military and defense uses for this technology.

Anthony Atala

The project is being conducted in the lab of Anthony Atala, who considered to be the leading U.S researcher in the field of regenerative medicine.  

"Miniature lab-engineered organ-like hearts, lungs, livers, and blood vessels—linked together with a circulating blood substitute—will be used both to predict the effects of chemical and biologic agents and to test the effectiveness of potential treatments," says Atala.

This isn’t the first time that the Wake Forest team have made the news in the 3D printing industry, either.  Previously, the talented team of students and teachers at the school’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine have made strides in both creating a 3D printer for printing large organs such as kidneys and bladders, as well as have developed a new type of ink-jet printing technology that allows skin to be “printed” for soldiers with serious burns.   



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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