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Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have recently developed a new 3D bioprinting technique, bringing the ‘field of tissue engineering one step closer to being able to print a full-sized, adult human heart’. The newly created method, known as an advanced version of Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) technology, has enabled them to 3D print collagen with unprecedented resolution and fidelity using soft and living materials, building components of the human heart ranging from small blood vessels to beating ventricles.

Collagen, which is the major structural protein found in the human body, is said to be ‘an extremely desirable biomaterial to 3D print with because it makes up literally every single tissue’. Organs, such as the heart, are built from specialised cells which are held together by a biological scaffold named the extracellular matrix (ECM). This network of ECM proteins provides the structure and biochemical signals needed by cells to carry out their normal function. Until now, existing biofabrication methods have had several limiting factors, making it impossible to rebuild such complex ECM architecture. FRESH overcomes such challenges: now ‘we can print pieces of the heart out of cells and collagen into parts that truly function’ says Adam Feinberg, a professor of Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

This method is particularly innovative for the field of 3D bioprinting as it allows collagen scaffolds to be printed at the large scale of human organs and can also be used to 3D bioprint a plethora of other soft gels such as fibrin or hyaluronic acid. The FRESH technique therefore promises to provide a ‘robust and adaptable tissue engineering platform’.

Students applying for Engineering, as well as those planning to apply for Materials Science, can reflect on FRESH’s potential applications to the many aspects of regenerative medicine, considering how recent scientific progress such as this can further lead humans on the path towards engineering functional human tissues and organs.

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