In a recent test of 3D printing capabilities, researches printed human tissue and organs. Creating the flesh was simple enough Researchers could not however figure out how to incorporate a method to pump blood and nutrients throughout the flesh. Now, scientists at MIT, Harvard, University of Sydney, and Stanford have solved this problem with 3D print working blood vessels by creating a skeleton of the vessels with fabricated fine, interconnected fibers.
Researchers covered the fibers with human endothelial cells, which separate the vessel walls in the interior of the blood vessel and the circulating blood. They then applied a protein based material to the organ. The whole structure was then hardened with light and the fiber skeleton was delicately removed, leaving behind a 3D print of a complex cardiovascular system. After a week, the cells organized themselves into stable blood vessels.
Dr. Luiz Bertassoni illustrated the implications to medical care this discovery has by describing a world where a patient could go to a hospital, and have a full organ printed for them (bio-printed) with all the proteins, vessels, and cells in the right place, by simply pressing print on a computer screen like a Word document. Bertassoni continued to suggest that the capability to 3D print blood vessels is a “game changer” in both the medical, and technology field. Bertassoni stated that the process of printing an organ can be done in a few minutes.
Bertassoni did follow up his optimistic beliefs with the claim that the day when his hypothetical, efficient hospital visit is still “far away,” but the research done by his team is a big step towards that goal. The practice of artificially growing organs and blood vessels has been experimented with, but the inclusion of 3D printing makes the process more efficient, speedy, and cost-effective.
The blood vessels are used to move nutrients through the bio-printed tissues, enabling improved cell growth and differentiation. This discovery has the potential to allow medical scientists to build organs in labs by growing cells on the network of vessels. Scientists who can now 3D print working blood vessels means that there can be a practical, complete alleviation for the hundreds of thousands of people who die annually due to the demand for organs exceeding the donor supply.
If it becomes common for scientists to 3D print working blood vessels, the overcrowding at hospitals can be alleviated as well. With afflicted individuals, possibly, being able to tell a hospital what organ will be needed via the internet, than having a surgery date scheduled instantly when the organ is at hand, hospitals and patients will have less to do. Patients will also have to spend less time in hospital rooms, thus decreasing the cost of medical visits.
The project is currently being further experimented with and improved. Bertassoni and his peers are seeking investors to fund their 3D print organ technology. This practice can also be used to treat cancer afflicted organs, where it might be a more viable option to remove an organ infected with the disease and replace it with a bio-printed organ.
By Andres Loubriel