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Scientists work to 3D bioprint a human heart in 5 years

Published in Bioprinting.

A team of Stanford University engineers, cardiologists, and biology experts are at work to bioprint a fully functioning human heart to implant into a pig.

Inside one of the labs that focuses on medical innovation at Stanford University, there’s a small room. It stays cold to protect a cylindrical bioreactor. Inside the cylinder, a light red liquid seems to sparkle when you look closely. Even closer, some of the sparkling segments seem to clump.

Those sparkly bits are stem cells. A little clump equals thousands of them.

Mark Skylar-Scott runs the lab where he and a team of technical minds are working to bioprint a fully functioning human heart to implant into a pig, in five years, funded by $26.3 million federal contract from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.

“I sometimes refer to them as pieces of couscous floating around in the media. And they’re being instructed by the media. We added chemicals to the media to tell the, to become heart cells,” Mark Skylar-Scott explains.

This bioreactor will turn out billions of heart cells.

“We’re trying to show that biology is escaping the petri dish and becoming a kilogram of tissue that lives, that beats, that functions. That’s that’s our dream and that’s what we’re working towards,” he said.

When there is a successful batch, the team prepares to bioprint. Bioprinting is 3D printing, where instead of ink or filament, cells are used to make living tissues. They’re tackling small print batches: 10 to 40 minutes for a small cube filled with a vascular (aka blood vessel) structure.