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Printed hearts? Doctors are getting there

May 31, 2013

    Hanna Jaquith, Daily Briefing

    It might seem like science fiction, but researchers say that within the decade they will be able to create a functioning human heart using cells and a 3-D printer.

    "We think we can do it in 10 years—that we can build, from a patient's own cells, a total 'bioficial' heart," expert Stuart Williams recently told the Louisville Courier-Journal. Williams is the executive and scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, collaboration between the University of Louisville and the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.

    Williams and his colleagues have successfully "printed" and implanted parts of hearts in mice as part of their heart-printing research. Nearby at the University of Kentucky, scientists have used the technology to grow ulna bones in rabbits and make anatomical models for teaching and surgery planning.

    Eventually, scientists across the globe hope that printing tissues and organs from patients' cells can mitigate the danger of rejection, as well as the persistent shortage of transplant organs. Williams said a total bioficial heart could cost about $100,000 in today's dollars, on top of roughly $150,000 in hospital and surgery costs—less than the typical heart transplant.

    Still, Williams faces some daunting challenges before he achieves the feat, such as replicating the complexity of blood vessels. However, he says he's not discouraged when his friends laugh at his 10-year plan. "I love it when they laugh. It provides me with a challenge," he says.

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