Exciting times for Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Yesterday we told you the hospital was the place where Van Gogh got his severed ear printed, and today we can announce researchers at the Boston hospital are actually able to 3D print blood vessels. Scientists can now 3D print man-made blood vessels from scratch. The team published their findings in the journal Lab on a Chip.
Scientists have been able to 3D print artificial hearts, livers and lungs, but until today it has been impossible to create man-made blood vessels from scratch. However, there has always been a need for it, as those vessels can solve a lot of medical issues. When a person is suffering from faulty blood vessels, then an artificial vessel can be used as a tissue donor transplant. The problem however is that there is a shortage of donors, and the body’s immune system can sometimes also reject blood vessels from another person.
In addition, blood vessels are highly important for each body, because they remove waste material and transfer nutrients to vital organs and back. Because a lot of blood vessels are currently used for donor purposes, they can’t be used for testing drugs before using them in humans. As you can imagine, the possibility to use them for testing drugs could lead to important new medical insights.
The Boston team therefore uses bioprinting techniques to make it work. How they did it is quite a complicated story. On their website, the team says it has been using a bioprinter to create an agarose fiber template. Agarose is a naturally derived sugar-based molecule. The produced mold was then covered with a gelatin-like substance, which is called hydrogel. The hydrogel then formed a cast over the mold and they reinforced it using photocrisslinks. We warned you this was something difficult – no wonder why it has not been possible before to create those ‘bloody’ blood vessels.
“Our approach involves the printing of agarose fibers that become the blood vessel channels. But what is unique about our approach is that the fiber templates we printed are strong enough that we can physically remove them to make the channels,” says senior study author Ali Khademhosseini in a press announcement. “This prevents having to dissolve these template layers, which may not be so good for the cells that are entrapped in the surrounding gel.”
“In the future, 3D printing technology may be used to develop transplantable tissues customized to each patient’s needs or be used outside the body to develop drugs that are safe and effective,” adds Khademhosseini. However, this might take a while, as we are still miles away from 3D printing blood vessels into a human body. The technique still has its limitations. For instance, it can’t be used to create smaller blood vessels, because the materials aren’t strong enough yet. Bigger vessels can however rearrange to create smaller versions around them.
Image credit: Peter Eimon.