A major ongoing project in the field of biomedical engineering is 3D bioprinting, a highly intricate process of recreating cell and tissue patterns, in a laboratory, in order to produce artificial organs. By employing this concept, scientists have successfully constructed jawbones, tracheas and even urinary bladders from existing stem cells.
Though currently in the development stage, if successful, 3D printing will indeed be a revolutionary medical feat. Where thousands of people have died in the past due to scarcity of donor organs, this method of synthetically growing organs will prove to be a prime lifesaver in transplant cases.
One of the main challenges that scientists were hitherto facing was the difficulty in reproducing the extremely complex human vasculature. However, a team of researchers from the Universities of Stanford, Harvard, Sydney and MIT have finally managed to conquer this hurdle.
The circulatory system plays an important role in the human body, carrying blood and oxygen, needed for cell survival and growth, to tissues and organs, and bringing back waste products. In order to replicate the immensely convoluted meshwork of blood vessels and capillaries, a web of interconnected fibres is first created with the help of high-tech 3D ‘bio-printer’.
This network, that acts primarily as a mold, is then covered with a “cell-rich, protein-based” substance and, hardened by the careful application of light. Finally, the fibres are removed from underneath an active réseau of fine channels, coated with endothelial cells. These in turn organize themselves into an efficient network of blood capillaries, in less than a week.
This technique has indeed proved to be incredibly successful, with the developed cells exhibiting higher survival rate as well as greater vitality and differentiation. In a recent University of Sydney study, lead scientist Dr. Luiz Bertassoni has elaborated on the realistic significance of their success:
While recreating little parts of tissues in the lab is something that we have already been able to do, the possibility of printing three-dimensional tissues with functional blood capillaries in the blink of an eye is a game changer.
Thus the day when entire vascular systems can be recreated, for the purpose of developing artificial organs, doesn’t seem all that far, does it?