3D Organ Printing Gets Closer With Blood Vessel Breakthrough

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A collaborative team of researchers from the University of Sydney, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT have announced a significant breakthrough in the push toward engineering fully-functional 3D printed organs. In a study published Monday, the research team reported that they have successfully grown a network of functional, complex blood vessels using only engineered materials.

Until now, researchers created the core cardiovascular networks used in 3D printed organs by taking donated organs and applying a special chemical wash that removed the organ tissue and left only the functional scaffolding of blood vessels.

Using these donated scaffolds, researchers have made great strides growing organ tissues around them that resulted in functional organs such as kidneys and livers. Efforts to scale those programs to the point of providing on-demand organ printing for patients have been prevented because the printing process relies on donated blood vessel scaffolding, something that is in short supply.

"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,” explains Luiz Bertassoni, MD, the lead researcher on the team from the University of Sydney.

Researchers created the vascular network by taking microscopic fibers and using them to create a mold of what the final cardiovascular network should look like. Next, the structure was coated a with cell-rich protein-based material that solidified, growing into human endothelial cells, and self organizing into a fully functional capillaries in less than a week. At this point, the fibers used to mold the network were carefully removed. Using the man-made blood vessels, organ tissues were grown and were able to survive.

The technology is far from perfect, more of a prototype than a final product, and will not support 3D printed organ production for clinical use, but it does allow researchers to begin focusing on perfecting fully synthetic 3D printed organs, a possibility that could eventually have widespread global ramifications on human health.

"Thousands of people die each year due to a lack of organs for transplantation. Imagine being able to walk into a hospital and have a full organ printed — or bio-printed, as we call it — with all the cells, proteins and blood vessels in the right place, simply by pushing the ‘print’ button in your computer screen. We are still far away from that, but our research is addressing exactly that. Our finding is an important new step towards achieving these goals,” says Bertassoni.


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