3D Printing Blood Vessel Networks
3-D printers can assemble raw materials into very complex products. Researchers had previously fabricated a single blood vessel, which amounted to no more than a long and slender tube. The next hurdle is to create complex, branching networks of blood vessels.
A team of engineers led by Dr. Shaochen Chen of the University of California, San Diego, aimed to improve on current 3-D printers to better engineer complex tissues like blood vessel networks. Their research was supported by NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). Results were published online in advance of the April 2017 issue of Biomaterials.
“Almost all tissues and organs need blood vessels to survive and work properly. This is a big bottleneck in making organ transplants, which are in high demand but in short supply,” says Chen. “3-D bioprinting organs can help bridge this gap, and our lab has taken a big step toward that goal.”
The results show that a complex tissue resembling blood vessels can be formed using a 3-D printer. The ultimate challenge for this research team is to engineer heart tissue with a complex network of blood vessels. Such tissues might be used to replace damaged heart muscle or for drug testing. 🙂