With over 100,000 people in the United States on the organ transplant list, there remains a chronic shortage of organs to go around and even for those patients fortunate enough to receive a transplant, they'll be forced to suppress their immune systems for the rest of their lives to avoid rejection. As such, scientists have sought to develop techniques to eventually make replacement organs out of the patient's own cells to avoid rejection.
Scientists managed to create a method to duplicate blood vessels - something that's been a thorn in the side of previous attempts to 3-D print fully functioning replacement organs. The artificial vascular system doesn't just work for transporting blood, however. The system can be made to act as multiple specific bodily fluid transportation systems, such as airways, blood vessels, and lymph node pathways, based upon design requirements.
A particular issue the designers focused upon was multivascularity, our various separate vascular networks are interconnected. For example, take the airways of the lungs and the blood that circulates into the lungs to become oxygenated for example, in order for replacement organs to function properly, those connections have to be built into the system ahead of time.
The open source system is called SLATE, short for "stereolithography apparatus for tissue engineering." The organs models are 3-D printed one hydrogel layer at a time. As a proof of concept, the team designed a functional model of a pulmonary alveolus, the air sacs in the lung, out of hydrogel.
Read more: http://rsci.nl/4qh
Image: Dan Sazer, Jeff Fitlow, & Jordan Miller, Rice University