Researchers 'Print' 3D Blood Vessels

Researchers 'Print' 3D Blood Vessels

Written by Alex Reid
Posted September 18, 2012

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have recently developed technology that could one day make 3D printing of organs possible, creating a major breakthrough in regenerative medicine.

Using a technology called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL), researchers were able to fabricate microscale three dimensional structures out of soft, biocompatible hydrogels. These findings, reported in the journal Advanced Materials, were conducted the laboratory of NanoEngineering Professor at the university, Shaochen Chen.

Stereolithography, better known as '3D printing,' is a technology more commonly used for printing large objects such a tools or car parts. However, according to Chen, the micro- and nanoscale resolution required to mimic structures of tissue such as blood vessels, is a very different technology.

While other 3D biofabrication techniques exist, such as two-photon photopolymerization, these can take hours to produce a single part, while DOPsL can create structures in mere seconds.

Right now, researchers are hoping to use the technology to create better systems for growing and studying cells, including stem cells. However, it could one day be possible to use DOPsL to repair damaged cell tissue with printed material.

The biofabrication technique uses a computer projection system and precisely controlled micromirrors to illuminate a selected area of a solution containing the photo-sensitive biopolymers and cells. This process then forms one layer of structure at a time in a continuous fashion until the structure is complete.

DOPsL allowed Chen's team to “achieve more complex geometries common in nature such as flowers, spirals and hemispheres,” paving the way for future advances in nanophotonics for biomedical engineering. The Chen Research Group recently moved into the new Structural and Materials Engineering Building, and Chen is working to develop the biofabrication technology further under a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institues of Health. The grant is part of a $1 billion investment by the government in advanced manufacturing technologies, including $30 million in federal funding to focus on advancements in 3D printing technology.