Last year, researchers in Germany succeeded in coaxing a 3D printer to print a blood vessel, e.g. artificial vein or artery. The BBC reported that the breakthrough was likely to herald in a new era is creating blood vessels to aid in the transplant and repair of major organs such as the liver. Now, PC World is reporting that researchers from MIT and the University of Pennsylvania have extended the idea of printing 3D blood vessels to include networks, which is of course key to their use in human patients. In reporting on the success of the German researchers last year, Popular Science said that developing a means to create artificial blood vessels using printing technology would reduce the cost of producing artificial blood vessels and speed up the process dramatically.
In the BBC report it was explained that the way to print blood vessel is to print first the bottom layer of it using a plastic type of material that would stand up to the abuse a human body would dish out, then a hollow tube of hard sugar, followed by the top part of the vessel which would adhere to the bottom part due to the heat applied by the printing mechanism. Once printed, the blood vessel would cool and then have water run through it which would dissolve the sugar scaffolding, leaving just the actual artificial vessel.
In this new research, PC World says, the research team at MIT added a virtual map to the process that allowed for printing an entire network of blood vessels all connected together at juncture points made of an additional layer of blood vessel material to add strength to the joints. This is necessary because blood in the human body is pumped around under high pressure generated by the beating heart. World also explains that to use such a grid in the human body, would mean first creating a map of the natural existing blood vessel system, such as the extensive one found in the human liver. That information would then be fed into a computer which would convert the map of the real system to an artificial one. Once that has been completed, an entire blood vessel system could be printed out and theoretically surgically implanted into a human being, saving them from liver damage or disease.
This is not the end of course, a lot of research still needs to be done, most specifically to see if blood systems printed out using this new method would be able to stand up to the strain of pumping blood through an organ for many decades and also to ensure that the system used would comply with current medical standards.