3D-printed ink makes fake heart tissue beat like a real one

Scientists have developed a hydrogel ink that enables 3D printing of a functional heart ventricle. Credit: OpenStax College

Heart disease is the top reason people die in the United States.

Scientists want to find new ways to cure this disease and even create new heart parts to replace damaged ones.

Researchers at Harvard University have come up with something very exciting: they can now print a piece of a heart that actually beats!

How did they do this?

They used a special kind of ink for 3D printing, which is a way to make real objects out of computer designs.

This is not your regular ink; it’s called “fiber-infused gel” (FIG) ink. It’s made of water-based gel mixed with tiny strings called fibers.

The fibers help to make the ink strong enough to keep its shape after it’s printed. This ink lets scientists make 3D structures that can be used for heart parts.

The cells in our heart need to be arranged in a certain way to work together and help the heart beat. The fibers in this new ink help with that.

When they print something with this ink, the heart cells line up along the fibers, just like how they do in a real heart. This is a big deal because, until now, 3D-printed heart parts didn’t work quite like real ones.

Suji Choi, one of the researchers, says this is a big step forward. She and her team printed a shape that looks like a part of the heart called a ventricle.

This part is like a pumping room in the heart. When they used electrical zaps on this 3D-printed ventricle, it started pumping like a real one! It was really amazing to see something fake work so much like something real.

Why is this important? Well, it could change a lot of things. Doctors could use these 3D-printed heart pieces to test new medicines for heart disease.

This way, they can figure out what works and what doesn’t before trying it on actual humans. Later on, scientists even hope to make heart parts that can be put into people to fix or replace damaged areas.

This research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and has been published in a top science journal called Nature Materials.

Kevin “Kit” Parker, another researcher in the team, says this project helps to fix some of the problems with making 3D-printed tissues before.

So, what’s next? The team wants to keep improving the ink and the printing methods. They hope that one day, they can make even more types of heart parts and, who knows, maybe even a whole heart!

Isn’t science amazing? With steps like this, we are moving closer to beating heart disease and helping people live longer, healthier lives.

The paper was published in Nature Materials.

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Source: National Science Foundation.