One of the biggest problems with printing human meat was the creation of blood vessels and ventricles. Making a solid mass of flesh was easy but adding a way to pump blood and other nutrients through the flesh was more difficult. Now researchers at the University of Sydney, Harvard, Stanford and MIT, have solved some of these problems by creating a skeleton of vessels and then growing human cells around them. Once the vessels are stable, they are able to dissolve the 3D printed material. “Imagine being able to walk into a hospital and have a full organ printed – or bio-printed, as we call it – with all the cells, proteins and blood vessels in the right place, simply by pushing the ‘print’ button in your computer screen,” said Dr. Luiz Bertassoni of the University of Sydney. “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.”
Bio-printing promises to change the way the medical community deals with organ failure. Every year hundreds of thousands of people die because they could not receive an organ transplant soon enough. The demand for donor organs far exceeds the supply, leaving helpless patients in a state that no one should have to be left in… waiting to live. We have already seen 3D printing create several types of human tissue, most notably liver tissue which is currently being used in drug toxicity testing. With that said, there is still one major hurdle to get us from the tiny sheets of 3D printed organ tissue, to that of entire 3D printed organs, which could one day be created by a patient’s own stem cells, and transplanted to save their life. That hurdle is the vascularisation of those organs. Every cell within a human organ, such as the liver, kidney or heart are within a hair’s width of a blood supply. This is an incredibly complex setup, one which up until now, researchers have found to be a nightmare to overcome when dealing with bioprinting. Without an adequate vascular network, the cells would be starved of oxygen, as well as a means to excrete waste, causing them to die and making the printed organs worthless. Scientists from the Universities of Sydney, Harvard, Stanford and MIT have been working together to overcome these mountainous hurdles. Today, the University of Sydney made a groundbreaking announcement. The team of scientists from all four universities have figured out a technique, making such vascularisation possible within the 3D bioprinting process.