It’s the most exciting use of the 3-D printer since the burritoBot: Scientists have figured out a way to make networks of blood vessels out of sugar that can be surrounded by living cells, bypassing what had been a major roadblock in the path to creating organs for transplant, or even lab-made prime steaks.
Researchers have made significant progress toward the production of living tissue in the lab, but the studies have been plagued by an inability to successfully fill the tissues with vasculature. As a result, the cells on the inside of the tissues, away from the surface, do not receive enough blood and die, a process called necrosis. So scientists have been limited to producing very thin strips of cells, prohibiting the production of whole organs and synthetic steaks.
In the new study, carried out by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, scientists used a 3-D printer to produce a lattice made out of sugar that cells — such as liver cells — could be grown on. Once the cells link together and the lattice is no longer needed, it can easily be dissolved, leaving a hollow set of vessels that can be perfused with blood within minutes, drastically limiting the necrosis seen in previous methods. A video demonstrating the technique is at the top of this post.