Sep 25, 2017 | By Julia

It’s been several years since scientists first started growing tissue in a test tube: as shown time and again, using a patient’s own cells to culture lab tissue is a viable way of “naturally” repairing organs. Nowadays, small tissue such as pieces of bone, cartilage, and muscle can be readily grown without relying on artificial implant materials such as metal or plastic. Yet in the case of larger-scale tissues often required in patient care, long term viability is an ongoing issue: there’s simply not enough natural power to sustain this larger volume. Even our most up-to-date solutions have difficulty feeding tissues fast enough, meaning most cannot be sustained for the necessary amount of time.

As one Dutch scientist shows, however, 3D printing techniques can provide a unique solution. Assistant Professor Jeroen Leijten at the University of Twente in The Netherlands is devoted to researching nano- and microscale tools that can help generate bioengineered skeletal tissue. Specifically, Leijten develops specialized materials to help control stem cell behaviour on both the nano, micro, and macro scales - in other words, no tissue is too large (or too small) for Leijten’s technique.

The basic premise of his work involves constructing micromaterials that are equipped to release oxygen for a sustained period of time. These micromaterials essentially act as nutrients for the implanted tissue, somewhat like a “packed lunch” for the patient’s cells. Using advanced 3D printing techniques, Leijten implements a network of blood vessels for releasing these nutrients into the fresh tissue. According to him, it could ensure long-term survival, effectively changing how we engineer human tissue.

Leijten’s project "ENABLE: Advancing cell-based therapies by supporting implant survival" is set to go big: recently awarded a starting grant of 1.5 million euros for the European Research Council, Leijten is ready to test his solution in a real-life example. The University of Twente researcher will soon attempt to repair a real damaged bone with his “new and improved” body tissue.

If the initial study proves successful, there’s no telling how far Leijten’s work could go. Tissue engineering could be broadened beyond its current applications of small bits of bone and muscle, and theoretically extend to an entire network of functioning, long-lasting organs. First, however, Leijten needs to prove that his 3D printed blood vessels can hold up. But with his initial funding package of 1.5 million euros already secured, chances are it won’t be long before the Dutch scientist meets with more success.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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