Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Scientists want to find new ways to cure this disease and even create new heart parts to replace damaged parts.
Researchers at Harvard University have come up with something really exciting: you can now print a piece of a heart that actually beats!
How did you do that?
They used a special type of ink for 3D printing, which can be used to create real objects from computer designs.
This is not regular ink; It is called “fiber-infused gel” (Fig.) ink. It is made of water-based gel mixed with tiny threads called fibers.
The fibers help the ink to be strong enough to hold its shape after printing. This ink allows scientists to create 3D structures that can be used for heart parts.
The cells in our heart need to be arranged in a certain way so that they work together and support the heartbeat. The fibers of this new ink help with this.
When they print something with this ink, the heart cells align along the fibers, just like a real heart. This is a big deal because until now, 3D printed heart pieces haven’t worked quite like real ones.
Suji Choi, one of the researchers, says this is a major advance. She and her team printed a shape that looks like a part of the heart called a ventricle.
This part is like a pump room in the heart. When they applied electric shocks to this 3D printed ventricle, it started pumping like a real one! It was truly amazing to see how something fake worked so much like something real.
Why is that important? Well, it could change a lot of things. Doctors could use these 3D printed heart pieces to test new drugs for heart disease.
This way they can find out what works and what doesn’t before trying it out on real people. Later, scientists even hope to create heart parts that can be inserted into people to repair or replace damaged areas.
This research was supported by the US National Science Foundation and published in a leading scientific journal Nature Materials.
Kevin “Kit” Parker, another researcher on the team, says this project helps solve some of the problems previously encountered in producing 3D printed tissues.
What’s next? The team wants to further improve the ink and printing methods. They hope to one day make more types of heart pieces and, who knows, maybe even a whole heart!
Isn’t science amazing? With steps like these, we get closer to fighting heart disease and helping people live longer, healthier lives.
The paper was published in Natural materials.
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Source: National Science Foundation.