Engineering a Better Heart

printed organWhile it's difficult for me to criticize something as complex and impressive as the human heart (it pumps up to 2,000 gallons of blood through your body every day, after all), it's clear that to help manage cardiovascular disease, it could use some assistance. Since it can't repair itself like some other body parts, trauma to the heart results in tissue death, which can eventually lead to heart failure. Is there a solution to this? With today's new technologies, will it possible for mankind to actually engineer a better heart?

Last week, my post "Can Science and Technology Fix a Broken Heart?" started a conversation between myself (a practicing cardiologist) and Dr. Adam Feinberg (a leading biomedical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering). In this week's post, our conversation continues, and we'll outline some of the exciting developments that are on the horizon for heart treatment.

Q: Dr. Feinberg, you recently received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a bioprinting project that you're working on. What is bioprinting, and how does this impact heart engineering?

A: Bioprinting is the medical world's utilization of what's proven to be a revolutionary method of manufacturing: 3D printing. 3D printing is really unique because it completely changes the way we build things. It enables us to build a structure layer-by-layer; think of it like stacking sheets of paper to create a thicker 3D object. With this approach you can create incredibly complex structures in 3D, which is potentially game-changing for tissue engineering because organs like the heart are so intricate and difficult to replicate. However, to date, it has been extremely difficult to 3D bioprint soft materials such as cells and collagen at high resolution. 

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