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Astounding 3D-printed human heart model cuts and sutures like the real thing

The full-size, life-like model could give surgeons a chance to practice their life-saving skills.

This remarkable heart model created using a new bioprinting process feels like the real thing.

Carnegie Mellon University

It looks like a human heart. It feels like a human heart. It's "the first full-size 3D bioprinted human heart model," and it could change the way surgeons practice and prepare for patients.   

The innovation comes from a team of researchers led by Carnegie Mellon University biomedical engineer Adam Feinberg. The model is created using the innovative Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (Fresh) 3D-printing technique.

"Fresh 3D printing uses a needle to inject bioink into a bath of soft hydrogel, which supports the object as it prints," Carnegie Mellon said in a statement on Wednesday. The hydrogel is then heated away, leaving behind the model.

The team published a paper on the model in the ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering journal. The American Chemical Society released a video showing the heart and how the Fresh process works.

The new heart improves on previous efforts to 3D-print models thanks to a flexible but robust alginate material that makes it more realistic. Alginate is derived from seaweed. "For surgeons, this enables the creation of models that can cut, suture, and be manipulated in ways similar to a real heart," said the university.

We've seen some remarkable advancements in 3D printing for the medical field, including a tiny heart made from actual human tissue and a wild 3D-printed lung air sac revealed in 2019. 

The Fresh model is one step toward a bigger dream of printing replacement organs. 

"While major hurdles still exist in bioprinting a full-sized functional human heart," said lead author Eman Mirdamadi, "we are proud to help establish its foundational groundwork using the Fresh platform while showing immediate applications for realistic surgical simulation."