Last year, startup Prellis Biologics made a big announcement: it had successfully 3D printed blood vessels, creating scaffolding that contained microvascular structures. The company is one of a growing list of organizations aiming for the goal of 3D printing transplantable, viable human organs, and it has now announced that it has gotten a step closer: it has reached record speed and resolution in printed human tissue with viable capillaries.
“A major goal in tissue engineering is to create viable human organs, but nobody could print tissue with the speed and resolution needed to form viable capillaries. At Prellis, we’ve now developed that technology, paving the way for important medical advances and, ultimately, functional organ replacements,” said Melanie Matheu, PhD, CEO and Co-Founder of Prellis Biologics.
Cells can only survive for a limited amount of time without a blood supply, so printing speed is critical when it comes to creating microvasculature and scaffolding for human tissue. Tissue that is densely packed with cells can survive for less than 30 minutes unless oxygen and nutrients can be immediately supplied through capillaries. Fine printing resolution is equally important, since capillaries are microscopic – about 5 to 10 microns in diameter. A human hair, in comparison, is 75 to 100 microns in diameter. Prellis Biologics’ holographic 3D printing technology can print as small as 0.5 microns.
Previously, it could take weeks or more to 3D print a centimeter cube of human tissue with microvasculature. Prellis Biologics can 3D print high-resolution tissue structures up to 1,000 times faster with vasculature in place.
“The speed we can achieve is limited only by the configuration of the optical system. We are now exploring custom optical system development, which will dramatically increase our capabilities,” said Dr. Matheu. “Our ultimate goal is to print the entire vascular system of a kidney in 12 hours or less.”
Typical extrusion-based bioprinting is too slow and too low in resolution to create capillaries and keep cells alive, so Prellis’ technology is quite revolutionary, enabling the creation of thick, functional tissue for drug and toxicology testing and even, eventually, human organs.
“Vasculature is a key feature of complex tissues and is essential for engineering tissue with therapeutic value. Prellis’ advancement represents a key milestone in the quest to engineer organs,” said Todd Huffman, CEO of dvanced digital tissue imaging and data analysis company 3Scan.
In the US, every day approximately 330 people die from organ failure. This number could be greatly reduced or even eliminated with 3D printed, transplantable organs, and there would be much less risk of rejection from those organs once they were transplanted. Many lives could be saved, and many, many others could be improved by eliminating the need for things like dialysis, oxygen tanks and daily insulin injections.
“Microvasculature is the fundamental architectural unit that supports advanced multicellular life and it therefore represents a crucial target for bottom-up human tissue engineering and regenerative medicine,” said Jordan Miller, PhD, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University and an expert in 3D printed implantable biomaterial structures.
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