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In a major breakthrough that could lead to printable organs and an enhanced understanding of human physiology, researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Labs have 3D-printed functional blood vessels that look and function like the real thing.
It is to be mentioned that 3D bioprinters are similar to conventional 3D printers, but instead of using inert materials, they use bio-ink: basic structural building blocks that are compatible with the human body.
A LLNL team headed by research engineer Monica Moya combined this special biomaterial with living cells to create the 3D-printed blood vessels,. The material and environment were designed to enable small blood vessels, or human capillaries, to develop on their own.
This process takes a while, so initially, tubes are printed out of cells and other biomaterials to deliver essential nutrients to the surrounding printed environment. Finally, the self-assembled capillaries are able to connect with the bio-printed tubes and deliver nutrients to the cells on their own, enabling these structures to function like they do in the body.
The resulting blood vessels cannot be transplanted, but they’re suitable for toxicology studies and medical treatment testing (which will lead to a decreased dependency on lab animals), and Moya says they will provide a test bed for fundamental science. What’s more, 3D bioprinting efforts like these could eventually lead to so-called organs on a chip, which will help to alleviate the current organ donor shortage. The LLNL scientists will soon be able to utilize a brand new 3D bioprinting lab equipped with a more precise printer capable of higher resolution and larger structures. Moya says, that’s going to change the way people do biology.