Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are working on the foundations for the eventuality of 3D printed organs by starting with 3D printed blood vessels.
Using 3D bioprinting, researchers at the lab in Livermore, California are successfully recreating the complex nature of the cardiovascular system to enable small blood vessels, human capillaries, to develop on their own. Equipped with a 3D printer and a “bio-ink” made from materials that are compatible with the human body, the team has already printed structures with living cells and biomaterials.
Initially, tubes are printed out of cells and other biomaterials to delver essential nutrients to the printed environment. It’s a lengthy process but eventually, the self-assembled capillaries connect with the bio-printed tubes, delivering nutrients and allowing the structures to function as they would in the human body.
“If you take this approach of co-engineering with nature you allow biology to help create the finer resolution of the printed tissue,” Monica Moya, the project’s principal investigator, explained. “We’re leveraging the body’s ability for self-directed growth, and you end up with something that is more true to physiology. 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.”
This research will pave the way for the reproduction and better representation of human physiology outside of the body and also goes hand in hand with another project at the Lab, iCHIP (in vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform), aimed at replicating the body on a micro scale.
Currently in the final year of a three-year project funded by Laboratory Directed Research and Development, Moya has used bioprinting to create an 'unorganised' network of blood vessels but plans to expand on this by engineering a system similar to that of the human body.
“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 added.