Scientists roll out 3-D printed self-assembling blood vessels

Researchers used a 3-D printer and "bio-ink" made from living cells and biomaterials to create structures that function similarly to human blood vessels.--Courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

As scientists turn to 3-D printing to build models of human organs, researchers are harnessing the technology to create functional blood vessel structures.

Scientists at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory took a 3-D printer and "bio-ink" made from living cells and biomaterials, and created structures that can develop on their own. The researchers connected bioprinted tubes with self-assembled capillaries, delivering nutrients to cells and allowing the structures to function the way they do in the human body, the team said in a statement.

"We're leveraging the body's ability for self-directed growth, and you end up with something that is more true to physiology," Monica Moya, the project's principal investigator, said in a statement. "We can put the cells in an environment where they know, 'I need to build blood vessels. With this technology we guide and orchestrate the biology."

The research also feeds into another lab project, iCHIP (in vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform), which is trying to replicate the human body on a micro scale by creating tissue-on-a-chip platforms for the central and peripheral nervous systems, the blood brain barrier and the heart. "Bioprinting adds another dimension" to the initiative, Elizabeth Wheeler, iCHIP's principal investigator, said in a statement. "Having the ability to control the 3-D structural environment, along with growing vessel networks to support the growing tissue, is one part of replicating the complexity of the human body."

Next up, Moya and her team plan to better organize the blood vessels. Right now, the structures are similar to a bowl of spaghetti, Moya said in a statement, but eventually researchers could make the vessels have a hierarchy similar to those found in the body.

3-D printing live organs remains a long way off, but printed vessel models and tissue could hold promise for researchers. "Although printing implantable organs is not in the immediate future, our bioprinted tissue patches can be applied to toxicology studies, medical treatment testing and provide a test bed for fundamental science," Moya said.

- read the statement

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