Back in 2015, the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) was part of a group working on a design guidance system for AM that received funding from America Makes as part of its third project call for additive manufacturing applied research and development projects. Now, an engineer and assistant professor in the university’s Department of Bioengineering has been awarded a grant for a very different kind of 3D printing project. Dr. Yi Hong received an R21 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the amount of $211,000, to develop materials to make 3D printed blood vessels for children suffering from vascular defects.
Dr. Hong, who has been the primary investigator on research grants totaling over $850,000 since he began his career, will develop materials that are elastic and can be formed into patient-specific, feasible blood vessels, and also can be used in a 3D printer. Then, Dr. Guohao Dai, his partner at Northeastern University, will 3D print the blood vessels using Dr. Hong’s materials. In order to avoid surgical manipulation, these materials will be mixed with cells to 3D print a conduit, which can be attached to natural blood vessels.
Dr. Hong said, “Our research is mainly focused on the primary techniques. It is unique and could be far-reaching because we are developing elastic materials for 3-D printing. There are great possibilities from this research, which is a broad look at the possibility of tissue-engineering a blood vessel. Other groups are investigating 3D printed tissue-engineered blood vessels for use in bypasses or in the abdominal wall, but they do not have the proper bioinks. These are the major parts that will be needed for success in those areas.”
This is not the first time we’ve seen 3D printing play a part in the production of blood vessels. Researchers at Shanghai University 3D printed synthetic blood vessels a couple years ago, and even before that, a research team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) used 3D bioprinting to make an agarose fiber template, which could be used as a mold for real blood vessels. Biotechnology company Sichuan Revotek recently successfully implanted live 3D printed blood vessels into Rhesus monkeys, and a little over a month ago, UC San Diego nanoengineers created a whole 3D printed blood vessel network that is functioning, and surviving, in mice.
The chair of the College of Engineering’s Bioengineering Department, Dr. Michael Cho, explained that the NIH grant that Hong received “underscores the University’s emphasis on health and the human condition contained within the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.”
“The development of new blood vessels, has been a daunting challenge in tissue engineering. Dr. Hong’s approach to applying bioinks in printing engineered blood vessels is not only innovative, but offers a feasible alternative to overcome the challenges involved. With respect to clinical application, I have no doubt Dr. Hong will contribute significantly to regenerative medicine where progress has been hampered by an inability to introduce blood vessels into engineered tissues,” explained Cho.
The university, one of the largest institutions in Texas, is a Carnegie Research-1 “highest research activity” institution. UTA is guided by the Strategic Plan 2020 mentioned previously, which fosters interdisciplinary education and research within the themes of data-driven discovery, global environmental impact, health and the human condition, and sustainable urban communities.
The “Health and the Human Condition” theme is described on the Strategic Plan’s website: “UTA will focus on health and the human condition from distinct yet broadly encompassing vantage points. We will explore health management within physical, mental, emotional, and social contexts. Health innovations will be distinguished by diagnostic, prognostic, and technological advancements that help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives.”
Vascular defects in children could potentially lead to heart defects, and common treatments for these defects in adults don’t always work for children; grafts, for example, don’t grow at the same rate as a child’s body does, and in order to match the growth rate, the child has to undergo multiple surgeries. In addition, there is a high risk of thrombosis (basically a blood clot inside a blood vessel) when using a graft to treat a child’s vascular defect, and the anti-coagulant drugs used to treat this don’t work well with most children’s relatively active lifestyles. And while there are existing tissue-engineered blood vessels available, they usually are too fragile to hold up well under implantation surgery and blood pressure. So the possible surgical advantages for children with vascular defects, if Dr. Hong and Dr. Dai’s research is successful, are plenty. Discuss in the 3D Printed Blood Vessels forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: UTA]
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