Do you have an organ donor card? Every year, thousands die because of the lack of donor organs available. But with technology moving at incredible speeds, one day it could be possible to walk into a hospital and have whatever organ you need.
Although this dream is still far away from reality, researchers have been trying to bio-print tissues and organs for those who are affected by various diseases and traumas. Recently, scientists have been working on bio-printing artificial vascular networks that copy the circulatory system found in the human body. These vascular networks are essential for growing large tissues.
The system they used is highly complicated. Researchers first had to invent many interconnected tiny fibres to act as the mould for the blood vessels. Next, they placed a cell-rich protein-based material over the 3D printed structure. In order to make it solid, they added light to it. At the end, they took out the bio-printed fibres which left a network of tiny passages which were covered with human endothelial cells. Within a week, these cells organised themselves and formed stable blood capillaries. Simply amazing.
It was discovered that bio-printed vascular networks had higher cell survival, distinction and rapid growth when compared to cells that did not receive nutrient supply. Dr Luiz Bertassoni, the lead study author states, ”At the moment, we are pretty much printing ‘prototypes’ that, as we improve, will eventually be used to change the way we treat patients worldwide.”
“One of the greatest challenges to the engineering of large tissues and organs is growing a network of blood vessels and capillaries,” states Dr Bertassoni. “Cells die without an adequate blood supply because blood supplies oxygen that’s necessary for cells to grow and perform a range of functions in the body. To illustrate the scale and complexity of the bio-engineering challenge we face, consider that every cell in the body is just a hair’s width from a supply of oxygenated blood. Replicating the complexity of these networks has been a stumbling block preventing tissue engineering from becoming a real world clinical application.”
However, researchers have finally achieved all these points! Now, with bio-printing, large 3D micro-vascular channels can support life. There is even enough exactness to match patient’s needs on an individual basis. “While recreating little parts of tissues in the lab is something that we have already been able to do, the possibility of printing three-dimensional tissues with functional blood capillaries in the blink of an eye is a game changer. Of course, simplified regenerative materials have long been available, but true regeneration of complex and functional organs is what doctors really want and patients really need, and this is the objective of our work,”finishes Bertassoni.
Technology can really change lives! One can only hope that this will be a reality for those who need organs, very soon!
[Image via seren.bangor.ac.uk]