Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been known to appreciate the technology of 3D printing often, whether for projects in developing open source 3D printing software or creating lightweight 3D printed graphene aerogels–and far more. We’ve followed their innovations with great interest, as they continue to show how this technology can benefit us today–and often allows us to see how it will benefit the world in the future.
Delving into bioprinting, their team has recently been making blood vessels. With this advanced technology, the LLNL researchers are able to do some very complex 3D printing. And with so much talk being bandied about regarding the eventuality of 3D printed organs for transplants, one must wonder how it could possibly the done. That’s why teams like the one at LLNL are beginning with blood vessels; without them, new parts and implants cannot integrate and grow successfully into the human body. While we are talking about just miniscule parts, making them artificially is an enormous feat, not to mention progressing further once the blood vessels are created.
Monica Moya is a research engineer and the project’s principal investigator. Using a 3D printer and corresponding bio-ink, she and her team have been successful at making cellular structures which will in turn allow blood vessels to grow. While we have followed countless stories on bioprinting recently, it’s obvious that as it is still primarily uncharted territory, the tools and the materials have a lot to do with success in experimentation.
As bioprinting is evolving rapidly, it’s allowing for greater precision in research and development, thus the true potential for being able to create 3D structures such as capillaries outside of the human body, as well as other systems.
“It’s going to change the way we do biology,” said Moya. “This technology can take biology from the traditional petri dish to a 3D physiologically relevant tissue patch with functional vasculature.”
This is the last in Moya’s third year of an ongoing research project, involving lengthy processes for this specific aspect. Tubes are 3D printed from biomaterials which serve as nutrients, and over time the blood vessels connect with them, working to deliver nutrients and allowing the cellular structures to begin functioning (almost) normally. All of the parts are put together and given the tools to work and survive in a self-sustainable manner.
So far, the team has been successful but what they have created is a rather disorganized network, with the ultimate goal being to develop a more realistic network of blood vessels. This of course, requires more advanced technology.
“If you take this approach of co-engineering with nature you allow biology to help create the finer resolution of the printed tissue,” Moya said. “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.”
Facilitating the work of the LLNL team, a new bioprinting lab is in the works. This will allow them to make more advanced, larger structures, and they all foresee it as offering the impetus for bigger breakthroughs.
“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 said.
This project is also working in conjunction with another that involves fabricating of systems from within the body, but on the micro scale. Called in vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform (iCHIP), it involves the nervous system, blood-brain barrier, and heart.
“Bioprinting adds another dimension to tissue-on-a-chip platforms,” said Lab research engineer Elizabeth Wheeler, the principal investigator for iCHIP. “Having the ability to control the 3D structural environment, along with growing vessel networks to support the growing tissue, is one part of replicating the complexity of the human body,”
While there is a lot of big talk about what we will be able to do 3D printing, researchers are taking baby steps in creating ways to make biostructures, from the beginning–just as the human body itself grows, with 3D printed blood vessels as the foundation. This is obviously just one complex step of many, but success in these processes indicates incredible potential for the future.
The LLNL researchers also took to Reddit yesterday for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session to respond to some of the pressing questions out there–after all, who wouldn’t have some questions about 3D printed blood vessels? Like–how long will it take?
“We are still a good way off (we need to figure out where or how to grow the millions, billions of cells in an organ) from 3D printing replacement organs but that doesn’t mean that bioprinting is useless until then. Bioprinting small human tissues can be applied to toxicology studies, medical treatment testing and provide a bed for fundamental science,” the scientists told one questioner in the AMA. Discuss this story in the 3D Bioprinted Blood Vessels forum on 3DPB.com.