While 3D printers have recently been used to solve a lot of problems, they had, until now, built things out of almost exclusively plastic and metal — inorganic materials that don’t necessarily adapt well to the human body.

But a research team at Carnegie Mellon was recently able to, using a hacked consumer printer, create a heart out of organic material. While it’s not clear that the heart, as built, would function or be accepted by a human body, it’s the first of its kind and a tremendous breakthrough in medicine.

Here’s a video of the remarkable process:

Using highly-detailed MRIs, the team, headed up by lead author TJ Hinton, drafted a blueprint for the heart construction. However, one of the many hardships of working with organic material is its lack of structural integrity – it is prone to collapsing under its own weight without material to help brace it. Hinton said to this point:

“3-D printing of various materials has been a common trend in tissue engineering in the last decade, but until now, no one had developed a method for assembling common tissue engineering gels like collagen or fibrin.”

So, the team developed something called FRESH (Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels). Essentially, a soft but strong gel supports the printed material, and then, when the finished product is brought up to body temperature, the gel melts away and leaves behind the intact, structurally sound printed object.

The designs have been released under an open-source license, ensuring that anyone who wishes to can work on this project. And because this was done with a $1,000 consumer printer, and not a specialized $100,000 model, which means that further work will be obtainable without teams or individuals dependent on a huge grant or allocation of funds. Hopefully, that will facilitate further innovation on this front for those with tissue damage, or those on long transplant waiting lists for not just hearts, but other organs as well.

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