December 28, 2009

3 Min Read
Producing Blood Vessels Using 3-D Printer Technology



Invetech Organovo's 3-D printer can be used to print blood vessels.

Organovo (San Diego) has teamed up with Invetech (San Diego) to develop a 3-D medical printer that can produce synthetic blood vessels for use in coronary bypass surgery. The system might also be used to produce tissues and organs for transplants one day."Building human organs cell by cell was considered science fiction not that long ago," remarks Fred Davis, president of Invetech, a design and contract manufacturing company that built the 3-D printer for Organovo. "Through this clever combination of technology and science, we have helped Organovo develop an instrument that will improve people's lives, making the regenerative medicine that Organovo provides accessible to people around the world."To "print" an artery, researchers begin by taking a cross-section picture of the object they wish to build. "We use that as a map to paint by numbers," says Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo. The technology lays down cells in three dimensions with accuracy to within 20 µm. The particles used in the construction are made up of stem cells that are formed into tiny spheres and cylinders. Objects take about an hour to build, and then the cells fuse together on their own in the course of 24 to 48 hours, locking the object in shape. Creating an artery for use in coronary bypass surgery involves the use of three different cell types: endothelium cells on the inside, smooth muscle in the middle, and an exterior layer of fibroblasts. The arterial segments are 5 to 20 cm long with an interior diameter of 0.5 to 5 mm. Arteries with larger interior diameters can be built with Teflon or Dacron, but smaller-diameter ones clot when they are built using synthetic materials.The printer fits inside a standard biosafety cabinet for sterile use. It includes two print heads, one for placing human cells and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix. Invetech developed a computer-controlled, laser-based calibration system to repeatedly position the capillary tip to within microns, which is necessary to ensure that the cells are placed in the right position.The printed blood vessels are expected to be used in clinical trials in three to five years. "Scientists and engineers can use the 3-D bioprinters to enable placing cells of almost any type into a desired pattern in 3-D," Murphy comments. "Ultimately the idea would be for surgeons to have tissue-on-demand for various uses, and the best way to do that is get a number of bioprinters into the hands of researchers and give them the ability to make three-dimensional tissues on demand."More information on this technology can be obtained in the article "3D Printer Builds Artificial Blood Vessel," published by Information Week.

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