Through the use of 3-D printers, mini human organs can be made in all kinds of shapes and sizes. A new experiment by tissue engineers from Wake Forest University has made tiny beating hearts that beat in sync, and another pulsing heart that fused with a spherical, liver.
These printed, mini-organs were by Anthony Atala and his team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They represent the first step in developing an entire human body on a chip. The mini-hearts were made by reprogramming human skin cells into heart cells, which were then clumped together in a cell culture. A 3-D printer was then used to give them the desired shape and size, which in this case was a sphere of tissue with a diameter of 0.25 millimeters.
The development of these miniature organs was motivated by a desire to make model systems that mimic the function of life-size organs. Eventually, such a system could create mini-organs that could be linked up to form an entire organ system that could be used to test new treatments or probe the effects of chemicals and viruses.
The production of these mini-organs could potentially serve an alternative to animal testing, which is usually rather costly and doesn’t always produce results that are applicable to humans.
Further work on these mini-organs could also discover ways to expand these organs and make them life-size that they can be used for organ transplants.