Can Scientists Use a Printer to Create a Human Heart?

By Boonsri Dickinson | October 30, 2008 6:21 pm

heart1.jpgGot a printer? Then you may someday be able to print out a new heart.

By packing a printer full of cells instead of ink, Japanese scientist Makoto Nakamura wants to construct a human heart. But don’t skip a beat just yet: Nakamura needs another 20 years to make what sounds like a science fiction dream into a reality.

The secret, he thinks, is bioprinting, a process that is used to create 3-D structures in the same way a printer uses ink to create words and images on a page. The process works like this: First the cells clump together and flow like liquid, then a printer drops the cells down onto a surface, layering the cells on top of each other until the desired object is created.

So far Nakamura has used this technique to create a tube that resembles a blood vessel, but he hasn’t gotten near anything resembling an entire beating heart.


Nakamura’s first attempt at bioprinting was in 2002. When he replaced the ink in a typical home printer with living cells, something jammed up. So he called technical support. Luckily, the tech person helped him solve the problem—and soon, he became one of the first researchers to print out 3-D objects with living cells. The trick? The cells were immersed into a solution which both kept the cells from drying out and arranged them in a 3-D form.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Grow Your Own Organs

Credit: flickr/ Quixotic Pixels

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