Dec 3, 2015 | By Kira
Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have used 3D bioprinting to create self-assembling blood vessel systems that more effectively reproduce human physiology outside of the body, which will eventual lead to better representations of our complex tissue systems, and a better understanding of how to treat them in case of disease or sickness. The research is part of a larger project called iCHIP (in-vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform) that is aimed at replicating the entire human body in all its complexity on a miniature ‘chip’ scale—including recreating the central and peripheral nervous systems, the blood-brain barrier, and the heart.
If you tried to sketch out the human cardiovascular system, it would appear as a complex web of tens of thousands of miles of arteries, capillaries and veins. Although it exists inside each and everyone of us, it’s almost impossible to truly grasp the complexity of the cardiovascular system ourselves, which is why scientists want to recreate it through technology. Specifically, through the unprecedented precision afforded by 3D bioprinting technology.
“This is seriously a new frontier in biology,” said Monica Moya and Elizabeth Wheeler, two lead researchers in the 3D bioprinting project. “If we’re successful, iCHIP could be used to develop new countermeasures against biological agents without having to use human subjects.”
So far, the Livermore researchers have been able to use 3D printing bioink to manufacture human-compatible tissues vascularized with self-assembling vessels and capillaries. Essentially, the 3D bioprinted tissue has been engineered alongside actual human cells such that they can grow towards the nutrients, harvesting the human body’s own ability to respond and develop complex vascular networks on its own.
“If you take this approach of co-engineering with nature you allow biology to help create the finer resolution of the printed tissue,” said Moya. “We’re leveraging the body’s ability for self-directed growth, and you end up with something that is more true to physiology. We can put the cells in an environment where they know, ‘I need to build blood vessels.’ With this technology we guide and orchestrate the biology.”
They added that the precision afforded by 3D bioprinting technology is enabling them to get closer to their goal than ever before. “[3D] Bioprinting adds another dimension to tissue–on-a-chip platforms,” said Wheeler, who is also the principal investigator for iCHIP. “Having the ability to control the 3D structural environment, along with growing vessel networks to support the growing tissue, is one part of replicating the complexity of the human body.”
The three-year 3D bioprinted blood vessels project, funded by Laboratory Directed Research and Development, is currently in its final year. During that time, Moya, the project’s principal investigator, has been able to create an organized network of blood vessels (she suggests mental image of a spaghetti bowl, still far from the complex web described above), but the next step will be to create an actual directed hierarchy similar to what we have in our bodies. Luckily, Moya and other researchers will soon be moving to a new 3D bioprinting lab, where they will be able to 3D bioprint larger structures with higher resolution due to more advanced 3D printing equipment.
Although the technique is still far from being able to 3D print functional organs, there are several important and existing applications for 3D bioprinted tissue, including toxicology studies, medical treatment testing, and providing a test bed for fundamental science. “It’s going to change the way we do biology,” said Moya. “This technology can take biology from the traditional petri dish to a 3D physiologically relevant tissue patch with functional vasculature.”
In order to shed a little more light on their research and make it accessible to the public, Moya and Wheeler are today fielding questions during an “ask me anything” (AMA) event on the popular social media site Reddit. “In order to get the various systems to work together properly, the ‘human on a chip’ will need adequate plumbing,” they wrote on the site. “It’s like a house with all these separate rooms, and we’re the plumbers. We’re really excited about the work, and we’re here to talk about it. Ask us anything!”
The AMA is an excellent opportunity for those who are unfamiliar with 3D bioprinting to get involved, and for those with questions to get first-hand answers from the experts themselves. They’ve already fielded a handful of great questions with well-thought out, honest answers, and though still ongoing, the entire forum has already been permanently archived by The Winnower, a publishing platform that offers traditional scholarly publishing tools to traditional and non-traditional scholarly outputs.
We’ll be following closely along as the AMA progresses. In the meantime, to learn more about 3D bioprinting you can read-up in our roundup of top 20 3D bioprinters, and learn about the exciting forecasted state of the global 3D bioprinting market.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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alvaro wrote at 12/4/2015 11:37:15 AM:
That's fantastic! I have hope in the future of humankind