It starts with a patient’s own cells and ends with a 3D bioprinted heart that’s a precise fit and genetic match.
Key Elements of the BIOLIFE4D Bioprinting Process
The BIOLIFE4D bioprinted organ replacement process begins with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedure used to create a detailed three-dimensional image of a patient’s heart. Using this image, a computer software program will construct a digital model of a new heart for the patient, matching the shape and size of the original.
Hearts created through the BIOLIFE4D bioprinting process start with a patient’s own cells. Doctors safely take cells from the patient via a blood sample, and leveraging recent stem cell research breakthroughs, BIOLIFE4D plans to reprogram those blood cells and convert them to create specialized heart cells.
A “bio-ink” is created using the specialized heart cells combined with nutrients and other materials that will help the cells survive the bioprinting process.
Bioprinting is done with a 3D bioprinter that is fed the dimensions obtained from the MRI. After printing, the heart is then matured in a bioreactor, conditioned to make it stronger and readied for patient transplant.
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The BIOLIFE4D Process — Step by Step
A MRI scan would be performed and a blood sample collected from the patient.
Because every cell in a human body has the same number of genes and the same DNA, every cell has the potential to be converted to essentially any other cell. In the second step of the process, the blood cells from the sample would be converted to unspecialized adult induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) – cells that can ultimately be changed back into specialized cells of our choice.
Through a process called differentiation, iPS cells would be converted to almost any type of specialized cell in the human body, in this case cardiomyocytes (heart cells).
These cells would then be combined with nutrients and other necessary factors in a liquid environment (hydrogel) to keep the cells alive and viable throughout the process. This bio-ink of living cells would be sustained in this aqueous 3D environment.
The bio-ink would then be loaded into a bioprinter, a highly specialized 3D printer designed to protect the viable living cells during the printing process.
An appropriately sized heart would then be printed one layer at a time, guided by computer software following the specific dimensions obtained from the MRI. Since the heart cells would not be fused together at this point, a biocompatible and biodegradable scaffolding would be included with each layer to support the cells and hold them in place.
When the process is complete, the heart would be moved to a bioreactor which would mimic the nutrient and oxygen-rich conditions inside a human body.
The individual cells would begin self-organizing and fusing into networks which would connect to form living tissue. The cells would even begin to beat in unison.
Once the process is far enough along, the scaffolding would be dissolved leaving only the fully formed heart which will remain in the bioreactor until it reaches a desired level of strength and maturity.
A successful patient transplant would then be possible and carried out by a transplant surgeon. Given the original MRI and blood sample, the new heart should be both a precise fit and a perfect genetic match for the patient – free from the risk of rejection or the need for immunosuppressant therapy that has plagued conventional organ transplant methods.