Researchers 3D print ‘living’ blood vessels

The cardiovascular system comprises tens of thousands of miles of arteries, capillaries and veins, branching throughout the body. And now, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are recapitulating this intricate network using an emerging technology: 3D bioprinting.

Lab research engineer Monica Moya, the project’s principal investigator and her team have successfully printed structures with living cells and biomaterials by using a 3D printer and a “bio-ink” made of materials with the human body. The material and environment are engineered to enable small blood vessels, human capillaries, to develop on their own.

Initially, tubes are printed out of cells and other biomaterials to deliver essential nutrients to the surrounding printed environment. Eventually, 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.

Researchers say the precision and 3D structures made possible through bioprinting are enabling them to effectively reproduce human physiology outside of the body, and will eventually lead to a better representation of each tissue system that makes up the human body.

Bioprinting complements a Lab project aimed at replicating the body on a micro scale. That project, known as iCHIP (in vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform), re-creates and integrates the central and peripheral nervous systems, the blood-brain barrier and the heart.

Currently in the final year of a three-year project funded by Laboratory Directed Research and Development, Moya has used bioprinting to create an unorganized network of blood vessels, but she wants to go a step further, engineering a directed hierarchy similar to those that exist in the body.

Soon, Moya and other researchers will be able to utilize a brand new 3D bioprinting lab containing a more precise printer capable of higher resolution and larger structures.