Pittsburgh at the heart of organ biofabrication

Researchers in Pittsburgh have developed a technique to 3D print collagen – early steps towards being able to 3D print a full-sized, adult human heart.

Adam Feinberg, a professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University says: “What we’ve shown is that we can print pieces of the heart out of cells and collagen into parts that truly function, like a heart valve or a small beating ventricle. By using MRI data of a human heart, we were able to accurately reproduce patient-specific anatomical structure and 3D bioprint collagen and human heart cells. We’re making real progress towards engineering functional human tissues and organs.”

Feinberg is a member of both Carnegie Mellon’s Bioengineered Organs Initiative, and the Next Manufacturing Center, one of the world’s leading research centres for additive manufacturing (AM) – more commonly known as 3D printing.

Carnegie Mellon has become a hub in the biofabrication field, with Southwestern Pennsylvania uniquely positioned to be a leader in AM because of the region’s knowledge, research, and decades of experience in this field.

Meanwhile, The Bioengineered Organs Initiative is a multi-disciplinary research team drawing together research at Carnegie Mellon University in 3-D printing, tissue engineering, biomaterials, and cellular mechanics. The aim is to design, create and test a new generation of long-term replacement organs engineered from a combination of bioprinted cellular and synthetic materials in a bid to save lives by increasing the amount of organs available to patients in need.

In February The Bioengineered Organs Initiative received a planning grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), to address the establishment  of an Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Advanced Organ Biofabrication. The multi-institution collaborative research center would be driven by the core of biofabrication research in the region, and co-located at Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Texas-El Paso. If the pre-proposal is accepted, the Bioengineered Organs Initiative will assemble a full proposal and compete to receive full Center funding.

Collagen plays a key role in the extracellular matrix (ECM) that holds together organs and provides the biochemical signaling needed for their function. However, collagen starts out as a fluid, making the biomaterial difficult to 3D print.

Carnegie Mellon research has created a technique, known as Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH), which allows the printing of soft and living materials. The collagen is deposited layer-by-layer within a support bath of gel, and allowed to solidify in place before the support gel is melted away by heating it to body temperature.

The method is not limited to collagen, as a wide range of other soft gels including fibrin, alginate, and hyaluronic acid can be 3D bioprinted using the FRESH technique, providing a robust and adaptable tissue engineering platform. Importantly, the researchers also developed open-source designs so that nearly anyone, from medical labs to high school science classes, can build and have access to low-cost, high-performance 3D bioprinters.

While there is still a large gap to bridge in the creation of these components and the delivery of a complete, functioning 3D-printed heart, the technology is another promising step forward. The researchers are working towards commercialisation of the technology through a spin-off company called Fluidform.


(via NewAtlas, CMU)