Researchers At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Unveil 3D Printed Blood Vessel Breakthrough

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Momentum is gaining in the scientific pursuit of 3D-printed complex organs. While the field is still relatively young, a great deal of progress has been made in a short period of time. As it stands today, researchers have discovered through trial and error that in order to engineer a viable human organ, one must first create the complex structure of blood vessels that deliver nutrients to each cell within the organ. From here, various types of cells need to be carefully arranged around this vascular framework. “Single cell resolution,” a term specific to the 3D bio-printing movement, is required to accurately layer these cells around the vascular networks in a way that will keep each cell healthy and yield a viable, functional organ.

Researcher teams have divided into two camps – those working on the incredibly complex vascular structures that keep the organ cells alive, and those working on “single cell resolution” technology. Breakthroughs on both fronts have come at a fast clip. In June 2014, researchers from MIT, Harvard, and the University of Sydney announced that they had developed a process for growing completely man-made, complex blood-vessel networks. The team used microscopic fibers to meticulously create a mold of a vascular network. This structure was then coated in a cell-rich protein that self assembled around the mold. The approach was novel, and provided a number of valuable insights to the field, but researchers acknowledged that the level of detail achieved was still shy of what would be needed to create functional human organs.

Meanwhile, in September 2015, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco working on ways of organizing organ cells around these vascular networks with “single cell resolution” found that by adding DNA strands to the exterior wall of the cell, they could programatically control the self-assembly process down to the individual cell. This technique was a major breakthrough for 3D bio-printing, but without equally precise methods for developing complex vascular networks, the future of organ printing was still uncertain.

Now, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have announced impressive results from a new technique they developed to control self-assembly processes in vascular network development. The team has managed to develop a printing process that controls vascular network growth with similar results to what the UCSF researchers had achieved. “We’ve engineered the printed tissue with human cells so that they grow toward nutrients, harvesting the ability of the human body to respond and develop complex vascular networks,” explains lead researcher Monica Moya, PhD. This is an important improvement over relying on microscopic wire models to guide vascular growth, however, the team also acknowledges that, while they have developed a process to control blood vessel growth; the networks they grew were disorganized. They describe them as a bowl of spaghetti. The experiment was designed as an initial proof of concept to vet the new technique, but has yet to yield a man-made complex blood vessel network. The team’s next goal is to use this new technique to create the kinds of highly-organized vascular networks that the 3D bio-printing field needs.


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