Researchers are becoming more comfortable putting forward timelines for organ printing, which we might take as a sign of progress in and of itself:
A team of cardiovascular scientists has announced it will be able to 3D print a whole heart from the recipients' own cells within a decade. "Funding is very limited as this is a new area. But as bioprinting successes occur the interest will increase and then funding - so many breakthroughs have occurred in this way with a new untested idea that is moved forward with limited resources. For bioprinting it is the end of the beginning as bioprinted structures are now under intense study by biologists."
Stuart K Williams is heading up the hugely ambitious project as executive and scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute. Williams says he and his team of more than 20 have already bioengineered a coronary artery and printed the smallest blood vessels in the heart used in microcirculation. "These studies have reached the advanced preclinical stage showing printed blood vessels will reconnect with the recipient tissue creating new blood flow in the printed tissue."
The team has also worked on other methods of bioengineering tissue, including electrospinning for the creation of large blood vessel scaffolds that can then be joined with bioprinted microvessels. The Cardiovascular Innovation Institute is now developing bespoke 3D printers for the job with a team of engineers and vascular biologists. Though for now those printers are focusing on replicating the parts, the plan is to print the whole in one go in just three hours, with a further week needed for it to mature outside of the body. Certain parts will need to be printed and assembled beforehand, including the valves and the biggest blood vessels. "Final construction will then be achieved by bioprinting and strategic placement of the valves and big vessels," says Williams, who asserts that they are "on schedule" to build the bioficial heart within the decade marker. The bioprinter he says will be capable of achieving all the forementioned work is under construction now.