Engineers 3D Print Living Tissues with Blood Vessels


With the advancement in 3D printing, people may no longer need to wait for their turn in the long list of donors nor do they need to wait for someone like Tim Thomas to donate something. You can soon be able to 3D print living tissues with blood vessels and have your own organs instantly with accurate structure.


Harvard bioengineers claim to have taken a big step toward making a living tissue using 3D printer, having constructed a machine with multiple printer heads that each extrudes a biological building block to make sophisticated tissues. Regenerative medicines have already succeeded in implanting lab grown skins and tracheas into patients, as a result of body parts grown by a combination of artificial scaffoldings and living human cells.

How is 3D printing better than existing regenerative methods?

The obvious reasons are speed and precision. 3D printing offers computer guided precision in printing living cells layer by layer to make skin replacements and by extension organs as well, such as heart, kidney etc.,

Their work represents a significant advancement towards producing living medical models upon which drugs could be tested for safety and effectiveness. Such a machine and the techniques being refined by researchers offer a glimpse of the early steps in a sci-fi healthcare scenario: One day surgeons might feed detailed CT scans of human body parts into a 3-D printer, manipulate them with design software, and produce healthy replacements for diseased or injured tissues or organs.

Making a tissue construct

To make a tissue construct, three bio-inks are laid down separately in printer heads. One ink contains extracellular matrix, a complex mixture of water, proteins and carbohydrates that connects individual cells together to form tissues. Another contains extracellular matrix and living cells. A third used to make the vessels unusually melts as it cools so that researchers could chill the sample and suck out the ink to leave behind hollow tubes.

The work, performed at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, allows engineers to embed vascular networks into 3-D printed cellular agglomerations. These tiny vessels are critical to increasing the size of synthesized tissues because they provide a path for nutrients in and wastes out of cells laid down deep inside the printed products. Such networks mimic those found in natural tissues.

“This is the foundational step toward creating 3-D living tissue,” said Jennifer Lewis, senior author of the study published Feb. 18 in the journal Advanced Materials, in a university release.


The ability to print full-size functioning organs depends on figuring out how to seed 3D printed organs with both large and small blood vessels that can supply nutrient-rich blood to keep living tissue healthy. So far, no lab has succeeded in 3D-printing organs with the network of blood vessels necessary to sustain them.

Having said that, bio printing may take up to fifteen years to revolutionize our world completely but university labs and private companies have already taken the first careful steps by using 3D-printing technology to build tiny chunks of organs.

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This post was first published on March 25, 2014.


Karthikeyan KC

Aeronautical engineer, dev, science fiction author, gamer, and an explorer. I am the creator of Geekswipe. I love writing about physics, aerospace, astronomy, and python. I created Swyde. Currently working on Arclind Mindspace.

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