Using sugar, silicone and a 3-D printer, a team of bioengineers at Rice University and surgeons at the University of Pennsylvania have created an implant with an intricate network of blood vessels that points toward a future of growing replacement tissues and organs for transplantation.
The study showed that blood flowed normally through test constructs that were surgically connected to native blood vessels.
Tissue engineers have typically relied on the body’s own ability to grow blood vessels – for example, by implanting engineered tissue scaffolds inside the body and waiting for blood vessels from nearby tissues to spread to the engineered constructs.
“We wondered if there were a way to implant a 3-D printed construct where we could connect host arteries directly to the construct and get perfusion immediately. In this study, we are taking the first step toward applying an analogy from transplant surgery to 3-D printed constructs we make in the lab.” Miller and his team thought long-term about what the needs would be for transplantation of large tissues made in the laboratory.
Rather than printing a whole construct directly, the researchers fabricated sacrificial templates for the vessels that would be inside the construct.
Using an open-source 3-D printer that lays down individual filaments of sugar glass one layer at a time, the researchers printed a lattice of would-be blood vessels.
“We created a construct that has one inlet and one outlet, which are about 1 millimeter in diameter, and these main vessels branch into multiple smaller vessels, which are about 600 to 800 microns.” Collaborating surgeons at Penn in Atluri’s group connected the inlet and outlet of the engineered gel to a major artery in a small animal model.
Read more: Researchers create transplantation model for 3-D printed constructs
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