Scientists, at Sichuan Revotek and the Regenerative Medicine Research Center of West China Hospital at Sichuan University, have successfully embedded 3D-printed blood vessels into monkey test subjects. The vessels, which are made of stem cell-based organic material, were a major breakthrough in vascular regeneration.

According to 3Ders, the arrangement uses stem cells directly from the monkeys. Essentially the actual materials needed to create these 3D-printed blood vessels came from the monkeys, making it less likely for their bodies’ to reject the foreign implant.

The process involves creating a 3D-printed scaffold of biological material that grafts to natural blood vessels and are virtually indistinguishable from the monkey’s natural organs. This means that real, usable organs can be successfully printed and implanted in a few hours with minimum invasiveness.

Bioprinting on the rise

Even though 3D printing has been around for quite some time now, known in the manufacturing industry as “rapid prototyping” – essentially a way to produce objects quickly without needing to wait weeks to receive the finished product from a factory in China – “bioprinting” is a completely new field.

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Bioprinting is the use of 3D printing technology with materials that include viable living cells to produce tissue. There are different complexities associated with bioprinting as the work associated with creating flat structures, such as skin, is relatively simpler than creating a more complex organ like a heart.

Numerous bioprinting companies are are racing to develop artificial organs as it is hard to get cells to print out in the same way the body grows organs.

The 3D Printed Blood Vessels

To prove that the newly printed blood vessels would work, the scientists removed a very small section of the abdominal artery in 30 Rhesus monkeys, where they then replaced the segments with 3D-printed vessels. Within just five days, the 3D-printed stem cells grew into functioning blood vessels.

The experiments show that artificially lab-grown 3D-printed cells can be accepted in the body and used to create actual blood vessels, which is very exciting and a huge step forward, however, this does not mean that 3D-printing entire organs will be just as simple.

The issue that the researchers have encountered is the fact that stem cells need to be three-dimensional, as in the human body. For instance, you could not successfully print out the cells into a petri dish with success because the cells would not behave they would in the body where they would receive instructions from surrounding cells.

By placing the 3D-printed cells in a living, functioning body, the cells were able to take instruction from the other cells in the body, which detected the different cells. This is great with a tiny blood vessel, but how could you replicate that technique with an entire organ?

Final thoughts

At this point, it is not yet possible to print a heart, or other complex organ, as a healthy human body already has one, and there is no space for another.

Bioprinting companies are focusing on what they can right now though. If these companies are able to print out healthy aritificial cells from stem cells, then those cells can be used for drug testing, therefore eliminating drugs that could potentially be toxic to the human body.

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Paul Kerri
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