Imagine a world with fewer fatalities from heart disease—the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

 

A world where the heart could be simply repaired instead of having to be replaced, or if it did need to be replaced, a donor wasn’t required.

 

Tissue engineering utilizing 3D printing technology—a field known as 3D bioprinting—could someday make this possible.

 

“The heart cannot regenerate following injury or disease, it simply does not have that capacity,” said Adam Feinberg, Ph.D., an associate professor of materials science, engineering, and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, in an interview with R&D Magazine. “Engineering new human heart muscle has the potential to one day repair or ultimately replace a damaged heart.”

 

Feinberg and his Regenerative Biomaterials and Therapeutics Group at Carnegie Mellon are working on several new techniques for 3D bioprinting, including printing proteins such as fibronectin, laminin and collagen to form the heart’s extracellular matrix (ECM), a nanofiber network of proteins and other molecules that mechanically integrates cells into tissues and acts as an insoluble signaling network.

 

Recent work demonstrated  decellularized ECM’s from different organs can serve as a scaffold to regrow tissues from dissociated cells. Feinberg’s group is hoping to take advantage of this ability, by building the ECM from the bottom-up, just like cells do during embryogenesis or wound healing.