A research team composed of bioengineers from Rice University and surgeons from the University of Pennsylvania have created a fully functional implant with an intricate network of blood vessels using 3D printing, sugar, and silicone. Tissue engineers typically rely on the body’s ability to grow blood vessels to reach engineered constructs–a time-consuming process that causes cells inside it to die from lack of oxygen. This study shows potential for growing replacement tissues and organs for transplantation, while ensuring that oxygen and nutrients are delivered to all cells in an artificially developed implant. “We wondered if there was a way to implant a 3-D printed construct where we could connect host arteries directly and get perfusion immediately. In this study, we are taking the first step toward applying an analogy from transplant surgery to 3-D printed constructs we make in the lab,” says Jordan Miller, Assistant Professor for Bioengineering at Rice. Results of the study showed blood flowing normally through the test constructs surgically connected to native blood vessels.
The study presents an opportunity to explore how the process can address the biggest challenge in regenerative medicine—delivering oxygen and nutrients to cells in an artificial organ or tissue implant to keep the cells inside them alive. “This study provides a first step toward developing a transplant model for tissue engineering where the surgeon can directly connect arteries to an engineered tissue,” Miller said. “In the future we aim to utilize a biodegradable material that also contains live cells next to these perfusable vessels for direct transplantation and monitoring long term.”