Indiana company hopes to create first 3D printed heart - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Indiana company hopes to create first 3D printed heart

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GREENVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) - It would be a huge medical breakthrough that could change the lives of people waiting for a heart transplant: 3D printing a human heart. As crazy as it sounds, a local company is on a mission to make it happen.

Growing up playing baseball, Eugene Boland had to have 5 knee surgeries. "Found out that there was nothing except for donor tissue that could replace it, and I thought it was stupid," said Boland. "No synthetic, no engineering solution." 

Because of that, he wanted to find solutions as a bio-engineer. Years later, Dr. Boland can hardly believe the mission he is on: print a human heart. "Excitement, fear and it's just it's sounds both Buck Rogers and science fiction and just the culmination of a career all in one sentence," said Boland.

Boland is the chief scientist at Techshot, a company that develops cutting edge instruments for NASA, the Department of Defense, and other organizations. John Vellinger helped start Techshot in Greenville, Indiana, 28 years ago. He is the Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of the company. This project may be his greatest achievement. "If a young child has a heart defect and they need a heart transplant, we could take their own stem cells, create a human heart, implant that into the patient, and it could grow with that child, therefore reducing the number of heart transplants they might have to have over its life," Vellinger explained.

3D printing has come a long way. We have seen the machines push out toys, give a duck new prosthetic feet, and in January, WDRB introduced viewers to a man with a 3D printed knee replacement.

But it is organs that are hard to create. Techshot is working with two other companies to create a human heart in space. "There's strides being made in orthopedic tissues that don't have a lot of blood vessels. The real problem is vasculature. getting blood vessels growing into tissues," said Boland.

Scientists around the world are trying to bio-print organs, but it has not been done. "The real trick is being able to get the cells to grow and because of gravity here on the ground, people have been trying for 10-15 years but just cannot get the vascularization,  those cells to grow in that structure," said Vellinger.

That is why this team is trying to do it in outer space. "Gravity is a deterrent here on the ground and in space you don't have gravity, so therefore it creates opportunities to make a more perfect structure," said Vellinger.

Recently, the team took their equipment to Orlando and tested it in a zero-gravity simulator with success. "We actually printed the structure with living human stem cells of a baby heart during that process. Our next step is to take that same machine and put it up on a rocket, a sounding rocket that will go up and orbit the earth, and then after that we are going to put that technology on the space station," said Vellinger. 

On the international space station is where they hope their equipment will be able to create the first bio-printed human heart. "NASA's very excited about this opportunity because to be able to say that space is key for this to happen, is great for everyone," said Vellinger.

Boland says the first transplant is within reach. "We fully anticipate to bring back a transplantable organ by 2024," said Boland.

"With technology coming together and you throw in the aspect of space, I think there's real opportunities to make major breakthroughs," added Vellinger.

Vellinger says NASA is sponsoring a contest that is offering $500,000 to grow tissue that is one centimeter high that is vascularized. Vellinger says that money would only further the work they are doing.

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