November 11, 2015
When technology starts approaching "the Hand of God", then science fiction scenarios can become reality.
A few years ago, it would be a utopia for a printer to reproduce a human organ. Dr. Georgios Sarris, a pediatric cardiac surgeon striving to find the best surgical repair for the hearts of children born with heart defects (“congenital heart disease”), prints three-dimensional children's hearts. As Dr. Sarris makes clear at CNN Greece, he creates a a precise copy of the defective organ. "We insert data from a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computed Tomography (CT) scan or three-dimensional (3D) ultrasound study into a special computer program which processes the data and creates a precise copy of the heart on screen. The next step is to 3D print it! In this way, we have a full and precise copy of the defective organ to study preoperatively and design the best and most accurate operation possible. This process is facilitated by the factthat the doctor is able to make cuts in certain areas of the heart model which would not permissible or impossible to reach during the actual operation. “We are thus able to see and understand the precise three dimensional anatomy, define the problem accurately, and set up the best possible operative procedure with precision", Dr. Sarris mentions.
For the past three months, as Dr. Sarris says, he has implemented this method to several babies and children and and the results were more than impressive.
"Three-dimensional organ reproduction opens new paths to medicine as it facilitates our work tremendously. Let me give you an example: Just as medical students must study in anatomy laboratory in order to understand the overall anatomy of the human body, so the heart surgeon, in order to understand the complex malformation of a particular patient’s heart, ideally needs to be able to see and examine a specimen of this condition. Until today, it was extremely difficult for a doctor to have access to and examine a heart with a given condition. In some universities around the world, there are special anatomical collections of hearts with various defects preserved in formalin, hearts of patients who have succumbed to the defect.. You can understand that it is practically impossible a doctor facing the cardiac condition of a particular patient to travel to another continent in order to possibly locate a similar case as his patient in an anatomical collection. Even if he does, this will be a specimen from a patient who has not survived, and the physician will certainly not be allowed to make experimental incisions in the valuable specimen of the anatomic collection. Tus, at the moment, the doctor has to rely on understanding of the problem from books and image scans. Through 3D printing, however, the doctor now has the previously unimaginable opportunity to examine not just a heart with similar disease, but his patient's organ itself ! This provides the doctor with the opportunity to assess the patient's condition precisely”.
Can three-dimensional hearts be transplanted? As Dr. Sarris points out, current technology can assist with preoperative diagnosis and surgical planning, and may create precise inert parts of the heart to be implanted, but not live tissues or organs yet. As he stated, research for developing composite live tissue and eventually organs is underway in many laboratories around the world. The concept of bioprinting is to include a suspension of stem or other more specialized cells from the patient to the materials which compose the printed tissue or eventually, the entire organ. Using such methods, the printed tissue or organ can theoretically become compatible with and living part of the host organism, so it will be able to function and the body will not reject it.