3D-Printed Blood Vessels: Towards Saving Lives

In Aid of Cardiovascular Medicine

Can you imagine 3D printed blood vessels replacing hardened human arteries or veins in the treatment of cardiovascular disease? Some scientists are on the road to this possibility.

Engineers from the University of Colorado at Boulder have developed a 3D printing technique that allows for localized control of an object’s firmness, such as that of blood vessels like arteries, opening up new biomedical advances in the treatment of hypertension and other vascular diseases.

Looking for a Solution

We know that hardened blood vessels are associated with cardiovascular disease, but looking for a solution for viable artery and tissue replacement has historically proven challenging. However, in this study, recently published in the journal Nature Communications, outlines a layer-by-layer printing method that features fine-grain, programmable control over rigidity, allowing researchers to mimic the complex geometry of blood vessels that are highly structured and yet must remain pliable.

The scientists found a unique way to take advantage of oxygen’s role in setting the final form of a 3D-printed structure. As oxygen may cause incomplete curing, they used a layer that allows a fixed rate of oxygen permeation. With tight control over oxygen migration and its light exposure, there’s freedom now to control which areas of an object are solidified to be harder or softer while keeping the shape intact and the same.

The idea was to add independent mechanical properties to 3D structures that can mimic the body’s natural tissue. This technology allows to create microstructures that can be customized for disease models. There remains a challenge: to create an even finer scale for the chemical reactions. Tremendous opportunities lie ahead.

Looking back, some two years ago, out of a research by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, artificial blood vessels were bioengineered in the lab and implanted in young lambs. The vessels were observed to be capable of growth within the recipient. It was a groundbreaking new study. If confirmed in humans, these new vessel grafts would prevent the need for repeated surgeries in some children with congenital heart defects. The researchers were to determine the feasibility of requesting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human clinical trials within the next few years.

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