New bioprinted vascular networks the key to 3D-printed organs

Jul 7, 2014

By Becky Crew

Bioprinting technology allows researchers to produce tissues and organs by growing cell networks over carefully designed ‘scaffolds’. Recently bioprinters have been used to producethicker and healthier human tissue, and to print stem cell structures for use in new osteoarthritis treatments. Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia are right now working on using 3D-printed scaffolds and fat cells to regenerate breast tissue in women who have had mastectomies, and they say the technology will be in hospitals within five years. 

Now an international team of scientists led by Luiz Bertassoni from the University of Sydney in Australia has figured out how to bioprint an artificial vascular network that mimics the body’s circulatory system. This a crucial part of growing large and complex tissues and organs.

“Cells die without an adequate blood supply because blood supplies oxygen that’s necessary for cells to grow and perform a range of functions in the body,” said Bertassoni in a press release. “To illustrate the scale and complexity of the bio-engineering challenge we face, consider that every cell in the body is just a hair’s width from a supply of oxygenated blood. Replicating the complexity of these networks has been a stumbling block preventing tissue engineering from becoming a real world clinical application.”

Su Robarts at Gizmag explains how the technology works:

“In order to solve this problem, the researchers created a framework of tiny interconnected fibers to serve as a mold, using a bioprinter. The structure was then covered with a ‘cell-rich protein-based material’ and solidified using light. The fibres were removed to leave a ‘network of tiny channels coated with human endothelial cells, which self-organised to form stable blood capillaries in less than a week’.”

3 comments on “New bioprinted vascular networks the key to 3D-printed organs

  • 1
    Alistair Blackhill says:

    This is a brilliant piece of kit, and there is a very large amount of work ahead.

    It has been hijacked, sort of, in the novel ‘Contraworm’ (available on Amazon e books) where it is used as part of the approach to finding Richard Dawkins’ ‘cure for religion’. The facts are still stranger than the fiction however.

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  • There seem to be at least three radical applications of 3D printing.

    Scaffolds for seeding with cells to regrow organs,
    “Inkject” style 3D printing of objects using melted plastics,
    and Sintered metal laser 3D printing of machine parts.

    Anyone know of more?

    A advantage of these systems, is that programmes can be sent on-line for production in distant or remote places.

    Launch $1-billion-worth of spare parts to the International Space Station, and you can keep Earth’s orbital outpost going for another decade. Send up some 3D-printing devices, and you invest in the ability to build everything on demand in space: space-station parts, astronaut tools, satellites, even spacecraft.

    A first step toward space factories may come from NASA’s recent selection of a U.S. startup’s proposal to build a 3D printer for the space station. Such printing technology could build any number of objects, layer by layer, based on designs uploaded from mission control. Astronauts would only need “feedstock” material, such as plastic or metal, to make new tools or spare parts on the fly.

    “When a tool breaks, at the very worst the space-station crew calls Houston and says, ‘Send us a CAD (computer-aided design) file of that tool,’ and they’ll be able to 3D-print it,” said Jason Dunn, chief technology officer and cofounder of Made in Space, Inc. “Ideally, one day they’ll be able to design it themselves.”

    In the distant future, you could even envisage printed replacement organs for space crews, being operated on by robot surgeons, remotely programmed with a linked system.

    Similarly, rocket powered and solar robot service probes, could print and fit spares to repair satellites.

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