3D rendering of the printed heart pump. (Credit: Kupfer, Lin, et al./University of Minnesota)

Researchers have 3D printed a functioning centimeter-scale human heart pump in the lab. The discovery could have major implications for studying heart disease. The team optimized the specialized ink made from extracellular matrix proteins, combined the ink with human stem cells, and used the ink-plus-cells to 3D print the chambered structure. The stem cells were expanded to high cell densities in the structure first, and then differentiated from the heart muscle cells. Because the cells were differentiating right next to each other, it’s more similar to how the stem cells would grow in the body and then undergo specification to heart muscle cells.

This discovery creates a structure that is like a closed sac with a fluid inlet and fluid outlet, where they can measure how a heart moves blood within the body. This makes it an invaluable tool for studying heart function.

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