3D-Printed Organs Are a Heartbeat Closer to Reality

by Cindy Glass
- Jun 11 2015 - 4 min read
Courtesy Advanced Solutions

Michael Golway, president and CEO of Advanced Solutions, believes we are living in the greatest time in human history. And, he has the robot to prove it. The plan for his robot? It’s going to 3D print replacement human organs—even a fully functional human heart.

Rewind to October 2010. Golway attended a University of Louisville alumni fundraising event that included a tour of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute (CII) in Louisville, KY, and a chance to see Dr. Stuart Williams talk about the CII’s vision for creating a first “bioficial heart”—a replacement heart developed from the patient’s own cells.

Golway thought, “That is really cool, but how practical is it?” A few days later he was still thinking about Dr. Williams’ discussion of the bioficial heart and whether Advanced Solutions, a diversified technology company with advanced engineering capabilities across many disciplines, could help. A subsequent lunch meeting forged a fast friendship between the two men.

Example of an experiment to print an artery and smaller vessels on a heart model. Courtesy Advanced Solutions.

Impressed by Williams’ team capacity to “operate in a world that is 10 years from now”, Golway still veered to the practical of here and now. “I’m a business person,” he says. “I have light bills and employees to pay. How do we get set on a course where we can realize that vision with a solution that benefits many people right now?”

Golway’s passion for technology and the times in which we live is most palpable. As is his sense of urgency.

“There are three things that have really impacted me as a business owner,” Golway says. “First, if I look back at what life would have been like 500 years ago, I just wouldn’t have survived very well in that time frame; technology has enabled our incredible quality of life. The second is that this is the greatest time in human history, and we also happened to be born in one of the best spots in the world. We could have just as easily been born in a part of the world that is very unforgiving. Our view of the world would have been much different. And, third is that I’ve just come to realize that life is just too short, and even if you live to your life expectancy, it’s just too daggone short.”

With this imperative, Golway and his team of engineers spent the next two years learning more about the CII’s bioficial heart program. In that time, extraordinary advancements were taking place in the four key competencies that Golway believed needed to be combined to get to a bioficial heart: the cell source, design, assembly, and incubation.

Courtesy Advanced Solutions

After two years of exploration, Golway believed his team could tackle the design and assembly portions in a meaningful way that took significant bottlenecks out of the development plan for the bioficial heart. In March 2013, the Advanced Solutions Life Sciences division formed and began developing the first integrated hardware and software solution specifically designed for application to biological systems: Tissue Structure Information Modeling (TSIM) software combined with the BioAssemblyBot six-axis 3D printer.

The combination is powerful. TSIM is an intuitive design software that allows biologists and investigators to model in a 3D biological format. It lets designers import and integrate common patient-specific data such as CT scans and MRIs to aid the modeling. This element is significant because it allows scientists to continuously improve tissue-engineering “recipes” that enable assembly of biological material in a way that creates a functional tissue structure, and ultimately an entire organ. Once the design is ready, the model can be transformed into a physical structure by the BioAssemblyBot, a unique six-axis 3D printer capable of printing human tissue structures.

The BioAssemblyBot is an unusual design and a break from conventional 3D additive printing technologies that work on an x-y plane with a z-plane that stages down to create structures in layers. Golway’s team originally tried to adapt existing 3D-printing technology but ran into roadblocks. Specifically, Advanced Solutions needed to rethink how to address the complexity of the geometry of biological structures and the sometimes unusual, exacting, and tight tolerances of the bioinks or the living cells used.

Courtesy Advanced Solutions

The six-axis design—which Advanced Solutions designed and built using Autodesk AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor Professional, and a MakerBot 3D printer for early prototyping—solved these problems and provided unlimited flexibility for the biologists and investigators the team was trying to help.

The integrated system worked. Once in use at CII, cycle times for developing new cell structures dropped from three or four months to an hour, dramatically shaving time off the learning curve for achieving 3D-printed organs. Advanced Solutions Life Sciences began selling its first commercial system in August 2014. The robot that will someday print a human heart was a commercial reality right now.

Golway is a futurist rooted squarely in the moment. “What’s humbling to me is that we’re one of the first generations in human history that have seen this incredible proliferation of technology during our lifetime,” he says. “If we go back several generations, the technology was evolving exponentially; it just took a long time. Our great, great, great, great grandparents, in a generation, might see one change in technology evolution. We really are the first generation that has experienced it and lived it and seen it for not only one or two technologies, but for a proliferation of technologies across many industry segments.

“Our generation is able to take all the successes and failures of those technology advancements to solve higher-order problems, like printing replacement human organs,” Golway continues. “We are at the point in the technology evolution where we can treat biology like an information technology, which is really what it is.”

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