(NaturalNews) Scientists and researchers have made huge strides towards the goal of "bio-printing" tissues and organs for transplant into people affected by major trauma or diseases, according to a new study report.
Scientists have managed to bio-print artificial vascular networks that are capable of mimicking the body's circulatory system, which is necessary for the growth of large, complex tissues, Science Daily reports.
Researchers from the Universities of Sydney (Australia), Harvard and Stanford, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), were involved in the effort.
"Thousands of people die each year due to a lack of organs for transplantation," said study lead author and University of Sydney researcher Dr. Luiz Bertassoni.
"Many more are subjected to the surgical removal of tissues and organs due to cancer, or they're involved in accidents with large fractures and injuries," he continued. "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.
"We are still far away from that, but our research is addressing exactly that. Our finding is an important new step towards achieving these goals," he added. "At the moment, we are pretty much printing 'prototypes' that, as we improve, will eventually be used to change the way we treat patients worldwide."
Can be fashioned to individuals 'on the fly'
The scientists' main challenge was networking cells in the tissues with a blood supply. In order to survive, cells need ready access to nutrition and oxygen, and they must have an effective "waste disposal" system so they can sustain life. That's why "vascularization," which is a functional transportation system, is so important to develop: It's the key to the process, say the researchers.
"One of the greatest challenges to the engineering of large tissues and organs is growing a network of blood vessels and capillaries," Dr. Bertassoni said. "Cells die without an adequate blood supply because blood supplies oxygen that's necessary for cells to grow and perform a range of functions in the body.
"To illustrate the scale and complexity of the bio-engineering challenge we face, consider that every cell in the body is just a hair's width from a supply of oxygenated blood," he continued. "Replicating the complexity of these networks has been a stumbling block preventing tissue engineering from becoming a real world clinical application."
Employing a high-tech "bio-printer," the research team was able construct a number of interconnected tiny fibers so serve as the foundation for artificial blood vessels.
As further reported by Science Daily:
They then covered the 3D printed structure with a cell-rich protein-based material, which was solidified by applying light to it.
What it all means
Lastly they removed the bio-printed fibres to leave behind a network of tiny channels coated with human endothelial cells, which self organized to form stable blood capillaries in less than a week.
The research reveals that bio-printed vascular networks were able to promote significantly better cell survival, differentiation and proliferation as compared to cells that received no nutrient supply whatsoever.
What makes the breakthrough significant, Bertassoni says, is that it forms the basis of a future ability to fabricate large, three-dimensional micro-vascular channels that can support life on the fly, with enough precision to match the needs of individual patients.
"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," he said.
"Of course, simplified regenerative materials have long been available, but true regeneration of complex and functional organs is what doctors really want and patients really need, and this is the objective of our work."