Patients needing heart transplants often wait more than six months. While on the waiting list, some patients visit transplant clinics every two to three months. Other patients are hospitalized during the waiting period so that they remain in satisfactory condition. Since it is not possible to predict when a heart suitable for transplant will become available, patients who are not hospitalized must be able to be located quickly.

All that waiting and hurrying could soon become a thing of the past. Biotech pioneer BIOLIFE4D reports significant progress in its work to bioprint a fully functional and transplantable human heart. The process uses the patient’s own cells, eliminating the obstacles of organ rejection and long donor waiting lists. BIOLIFE4D focuses on making human organ replacement commonplace by combining breakthroughs in regenerative medicine, stem cell biology, 3D printing techniques and computing technology.

The process starts by creating a 3D image of the patient’s heart using MRI scans. Scientists then take the patient’s own blood cells and “reprogram” them to become specialized heart tissue cells. These are then used to create a “bio-ink” and printed using a 3D bioprinter that deposits the heart cells and special scaffolding material to recreate the structure as defined by the 3D scans. The process is still in its early stages of development, but BIOLIFE4D scientists have collaborated in a the creation of a bioprinted ovary that was implanted in an infertile mouse that subsequently mated and gave birth naturally. If the company is able to deliver on the promise of this new technology, it would revolutionize the field of human organ transplants. We could effectively “print” replacement parts on an as-needed basis.