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Carnegie Mellon University Lab Alters 3-D Printer To Create Human Heart Components

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA
A 3-D bioprinter creating a collagen structure inside a gelatinous rectangle. A Carnegie Mellon University lab is using this tactic to try to build a human heart.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and for those who need a transplant, the wait list is long. A Carnegie Mellon University bioengineering lab is on its way to achieveing a lofty goal: 3-D printing the human heart.

Professor of materials science and biomedical engineering Adam Feinberg heads the tissue-engineering lab, where his team has built a 3-D bioprinter.

"[It's] a 3-D printer that you might have seen print plastic or metal," Feinberg said. "But getting that to print living cells and other biological materials you find in the body."

Specifically, the lab works with collagen, which is a key structural protein found in most parts of the human body. Collagen is a liquid, so the 3-D printer implants it into a gelatinous rectangle so it holds its shape.

Credit Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
From left to right: Ph.D. students Andrew Hudson, Andrew Lee, and professor Adam Feinberg.

Doctoral student Andrew Hudson oversees a 3-D print of two collagen tubes inside the gel.

"I'm going to try and get cells to grow little bits of blood vessels between these tubes, to try and show that we can actually start growing some vasculature," Hudson said.

Eventually the lab would like to build a heart ventricle that can actually pump blood, to match the efficiency of the real thing.

The lab made the hardware designs for the 3-D printer open source, so others can replicate and build upon their work.

WESA receives funding from Carnegie Mellon University.