Man-Made Organs: Researchers Print Blood Vessels

Alison K. Lanier

A new method of 3-D printing the vasculature of potentially printable organs is in the works. Researchers in Boston and Sydney recently took one step closer—and not an insignificant step—to printing artificial organs.

Nvate 3-D printers agarose fiber templates  Bio-Printing Man-Made Organs Printed Blood Vessels printing artificial organs transplantable tissues

This is the stomach, liver, and pancreas. With 3-D printing technology, will these organs be the next ones to be printed?
Credit: rajcreationzs

This is not quite the fantasy of pressing a button on the futuristic-materializer machine and having it instantly spit out a fresh pizza, a kitten, or, you know, a custom-made new kidney. Successfully printed vascular systems created through the process of printing a stable mold promises the possibility of artificial organs. Producing new, man-made organs for patients in need, while it is not quite instant and straightforward as yet, is now progressing from the drawing board to the lab bench.

A team lead by Ali Khademhosseini in Boston is, according to Extreme Tech, addressing the possibility of creating, via a new method that addresses the persistent obstacle, delicate blood vessel cells.

Clearing Obstacles

The team published their results in Lab on a Chip, describing a complex method that uses many layers. The RT network described how the team printed structures called agarose fiber templates, which are then used as a mold for hydrogel. These sturdy templates do not face the challenge of having to be dissolved in the final product, which removes a variety of issues after the template is used as a mold. Rather, says Khademhosseini to the RT network, “the fiber templates we printed are strong enough that we can physically remove them to make the channels,” to avoid mishaps in complications from dissolving “which may not be so good for the cells that are entrapped in the surrounding gel.”

The “real magic,” as the RT network termed it, of the new technique is its ability to recreate the infinitesimal and fragile endothelial monolayers that line the interior of the blood vessels, cells which perform filtering and other functions that the organ is meant to carry out.

This is not to say, despite the sci-fi parallel of earlier, that this tech itself, which focuses on the vascularized systems’ printing, are synonymous with creating whole, instant organs. If wishes were horses, there would be organ vending machines like there are 3-D printed key chains. Unfortunately the process of creating an organ is, unsurprisingly, hugely complicated and a multi-layered process. It took nature thousands of years of evolution to evolve the human body into the shape it is now, and the organic growth of an organ inside an individual reflects the life, history, and environment of the individual it belongs to. Obviously this makes organ creation less than uniform among patients.

Bio-Printing and 3-D Printing

The utopian dream of printing organs is just one aspect of the trendy, optimistic scientific endeavor popularly called bio-printing. The key to creating printable organs though, according to International Business News, has always been the fickle obstacle of the vasculatory systems.

“In the future, 3-D printing technology may be used to develop transplantable tissues customized to each patient’s needs,” Khademhosseini told the RT network, “or be used outside the body to develop drugs that are safe and effective.”

The significance of the blood-vessel development is causing waves of excitement through the scientific press, even though the feasibility of the end-goal organs. Tech Crunch said that the flesh aspect itself is extremely easy to produce, while creating the delicate pathways to deliver nutrients and blood was the stumbling block. By being able to create pathways, researchers are hoping that the printable blood vessels will lead to “true organ regeneration,” which in the words of Tech Crunch, “sounds amazing.”

“True Regeneration”

“Imagine being able to walk into a hospital and have a full organ printed—or bio-printed, as we call it—with all the cells, proteins and blood vessels in the right place, simply by pushing the ‘print’ button on your computer screen,” Dr. Luiz Bertassoni, of the University of Sydney, said to Tech Crunch. Not too far from the materializer Star Trek tech, Luiz calls the tech a “game changer.”

“Of course, simplified regenerative materials have long been available, but true regeneration of complex and functional organs is what doctors really want and patients really need, and this is the objective of our work,” lead author of the project, Bertassoni, said.

The confusion, stress, and danger of long waiting lists for transplant organs may well be on their way to becoming obsolete in this researcher’s vision of the tech’s eventual long-reaching outcomes. With years-old uncertainty and strain associated with the process of acquiring a transplant organ, Bertassoni’s vision of instantly-available, man-made organs would be nothing less than miraculous for a huge number of patients.

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