A team of German researchers claims to have found success in creating artificial capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in the body, via a 3D printer. These capillaries could be used to provide blood to lab grown organs in the future. From the BBC:
To print something as small and complex as a blood vessel, the scientists combined the 3D printing technology with two-photon polymerisation – shining intense laser beams onto the material to stimulate the molecules in a very small focus point.
The material then becomes an elastic solid, allowing the researchers to create highly precise and elastic structures that would be able to interact with a human body’s natural tissue.
So that the synthetic tubes do not get rejected by the living organism, their walls are coated with modified biomolecules.
Such biomolecules are also present in the composition of the “inks” used for the blood vessel printer, combined with synthetic polymers.
The team that developed this technique will be showing off their new technology at Biotechnica 2011 in October.
Scientists have been looking toward 3D organ printing as a potential path forward for tissue engineering for years, and with researchers on the verge of figuring out how to replace filing kidneys with 3D-printed versions (and having already used similar technology to replace bladders), humans are close to a day where we don’t have to worry about organ donor shortages or take anti-rejection drugs to live with transplanted organs.
That day can’t come soon enough.