Jun 14, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers working at Boston University’s Biological Design Center have developed a technique for 3D printing cell-infused patches that can be used to grow healthy blood vessels. The 3D printing technique could be used to treat ischemia.

Ischemia is a term that describes when your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen, something that is often caused by narrowing or blockage of the arteries. For most people, it’s a temporary thing, but its consequences can sometimes be severe: ischemia occasionally leads to heart attack, stroke, gangrene, or other serious conditions.

Professor Christopher Chen (BME, MSE), director of the Biological Design Center at Boston University, is developing a new treatment for ischemia using 3D printed patches that are infused with cells. The professor says his research presents a promising new approach to growing healthy blood vessels.

Chen, along with colleagues C. Keith Ozaki, MD, FACS and Joseph Woo, MD (Stanford University), says the 3D printed patch fosters the growth of new vessels while avoiding some of the problems of other approaches.

“Therapeutic angiogenesis, when growth factors are injected to encourage new vessels to grow, is a promising experimental method to treat ischemia,” said Chen. “But in practice, the new branches that sprout form a disorganized and tortuous network that looks like sort of a hairball and doesn’t allow blood to flow efficiently through it. We wanted to see if we could solve this problem by organizing them.”

In the end, the research team designed two 3D printable patches, one where the cells were pre-organized into a specific architecture, and another where the cells were simply injected without any organizational structure.

Testing showed that the patches with pre-organized structure performed better than their “hairball” counterparts in reducing the prevalence of ischemia.

“This pre-clinical work presents a novel approach to guide enhanced blood flow to specific areas of the body,” said Ozaki, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who has expertise in leg ischemia. “The augmented blood nourishment provides valuable oxygen to heal and functionally preserve vital organs such as the heart and limbs.”

Professor Christopher Chen of Boston University

3D printing blood vessels on such a small scale required the assistance of some 3D printing experts and some high-end technology. Those things came from Innolign, a Boston biomedical technology company that Chen helped establish. The research team was able to quickly iterate new designs with Innolign, printing details as fine as 100 microns.

“One of the questions we were trying to answer is whether or not architecture of the implant mattered, and this showed us that yes, it does, which is why our unique approach using a 3D printer was important,” said Chen. “The pre-organized architecture of the patch helped to guide the formation of new blood vessels that seemed to deliver sufficient blood to the downstream tissue. While it wasn’t a full recovery, we observed functional recovery of function in the ischemic tissue.”

Chen, Ozaki, and Woo are pleased with the progress they have made on the 3D printed patch, but agree that there is more work to be done. Going forward, they will continue working on the scalability of the patches—something that should be achievable thanks to 3D printing—while experimenting with different architectures to see if there is an even more effective structure out there.

“This project has been long in the making, and our clinical collaborators have been indispensable to the success of the project,” said Chen. “As a bioengineer, we were focused on how to actually build the patch itself, while the clinical perspective was critical to the design process. We look forward to continuing our partnerships as we move forward.”

The research has been published in the new issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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