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Gray's Anatomy, via Wikimedia Commons
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Image courtesy of Khademhosseini Lab.
Artificial blood vessels
Artificial blood vessels are created using hydrogel constructs that combine advances in 3D bioprinting technology and biomaterials.
Scientists have used 3D printing to help unravel the complexities of veins, arteries and capillaries, allowing them to build better blood vessels and provide better treatments in future.
A team of experts from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), Massachusetts, has made headway in this research by using 3D bioprinting to recreate the tangled network of blood vessels, that deliver essential nutrients throughout the human body and dispose of waste allowing organs to continue to work properly.
Researching and understand blood vessels has been a long-standing conundrum for scientists, but the study published online in Lab on a Chip has unveiled real progress thanks to additive manufacturing technology.
The researchers used a 3D bioprinter to make an agarose (an organic sugar-based molecule) fibre template to serve as the mould for the blood vessels. Then, this mould was covered with hydrogel (a highly-absorbent network of polymer chains used in tissue engineering), forming a cast over the mould, which was then fortified using photocrosslinking (a process that allows researchers to investigate proteins).
Senior study author Dr Ali Khademhosseini, a Biomedical Engineer and Director of the BWH Biomaterials Innovation Rrsearch Centre said: "Engineers have made incredible strides in making complex artificial tissues such as those of the heart, liver and lungs, however, creating artificial blood vessels remains a critical challenge in tissue engineering. We've attempted to address this challenge by offering a unique strategy for vascularisation of hydrogel constructs that combine advances in 3D bioprinting technology and biomaterials."
Khadamhosseini and his team constructed microchannel networks exhibiting various architectural features and were therefore able to embed functional perfusable microchannels inside a wide range of commonly used hydrogels. Methacrylated gelatin laden with cells, for example, was used to show how the fabricated vascular network functioned to improve mass transport, cellular differentiation and cellular viability.
The project leader added: "Our approach involves the printing of agarose fibers that become the blood vessel channels. But what is unique about our approach is that the fibre templates we printed are strong enough that we can physically remove them to make the channels.
"In the future, 3D printing technology may be used to develop transplantable tissues customised to each patients' needs to be used outside the body to develop drugs that are safe and effective."