Bioengineering has traversed the all importaaant step of building artificial organs that could soon be used in place of traditional transplants. A working set of artificial arteries that deliver the nutrients and oxygen necessary to keep living cells alive and functioning properly has been made by current manufacturing technologies. Bioengineers from MIT and UPenn are developing a method for constructing networks of vessels by using a common, open source 3D printer modified to print using sugars.
Christopher Chen and Jordan Miller are leading the team that is using a RepRap 3D printer to lay the foundation for a lattice artery network using custom extruder made to print using a mixture of sucrose, glucose and dextran to trace where the vessels will be. After the network has been printed, it is covered by some type of Bio-Gel like Fibrin or Collagen, which also contains living cells. The researchers then dissolve the sugar network which leaves hollow capillaries, which can act as arteries within the artificial tissue matrix.
These artificial arteries can then be used to deliver Oxygen and nutrients to the living cells left in the bio-gel matrix. The team has been able to show experimentally that they can increase the survival rate of living cells and improve their function within this artificial tissue.
MIT Professor Sangeeta Bhatia, was part of the research team and explained, "More work will be needed to learn how to directly connect these types of vascular networks to natural blood vessels while at the same time investigating fundamental interactions between the liver cells and the patterned vasculature.”
The researchers are optimistic about the future of this method. These feelings are reinforced by the fact that soon, other researchers could start to contribute to the development of these artificial arteries. The printed templates are stable enough to be shipped to labs around the world where other bioengineers and cellular biologists can study and experiment with them. Although they could also use 3D printers along with necessary tools to print them.