engineering careers  Model life-size human heart 3D-printed out of cardiac tissue-like material
engineering careers  Model life-size human heart 3D-printed out of cardiac tissue-like material

Imagine you are a doctor about to perform open-heart surgery on someone. Would it help if you could do a test-run before the operation with a perfect replica of their heart?

A team of engineers specialising in 3D printing have pioneered a new technique to allow for surgeons to cut, suture and manipulate a model heart that is made for a material similar to cardiac tissue.

Up to now, major hospitals have had to rely on 3D printed models of a patient’s body that are made from hard plastic or rubber.

The new material allows them to create models with more realistic properties to help educate patients and plan for real-world procedures.

How it works

The model is made from an MRI scan of the patients. This allows doctors to examine the organ from different angles and practice surgery on it.

The team relied on a FRESH (Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels) technique that the Adam Feinberg, the lead on the paper, and his team at Carnegie Mellon University’s have developed.

The technique utilizes a “bio-ink” made up of a natural polymer known as alginate which is extruded from a moving needle into a hydrogel bath. This enables the layers of soft polymer to be held in place as the object is printed. Once printed the hydrogel is melted away via the application of heat, leaving only the object behind.

The model is created from MRI data using the teams a specially built 3D printer. With the result realistically mimicking the elasticity of cardiac tissue and sutures.

The technique represents an important milestone – as well as the culmination of two years of research – in 3D printing. Up to now, similar techniques have been used to create miniature models of organs but this is the first time a full-size replica has been printed.

AS well as having immediate real-world applications for training surgeons and clinicians the technique could also have longer-term implications for the future of bioengineered organ research.


Published as “FRESH 3D Bioprinting a Full-Size Model of the Human Heart” in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering.