Artificially engineered body parts are a hot area of biomedical sciences these days, but up until now, most synthetic organs aren’t much more than expensive, anatomically correct props for medical and crime scene TV shows. That’s because there hasn’t been a way to supply artificial tissue with the nutrients needed for them to function and interact with living tissue. Our bodies utilize tiny, complex systems of blood vessels to keep our organs running, but artificially reproducing these networks of capillaries has proven to be seemingly impossible.
Researchers from an interdisciplinary group from five Fraunhofer institutes in Germany think they might have found a solution. Their novel engineering process involves two cutting-edge technologies, and tackles both the macroscopic and microscopic challenges of creating artificial organs.
Advancements in rapid prototyping, the process of 3D printing, has allowed researchers potentially to print virtually any organ inexpensively and quickly. The process uses a modified inkjet printer to apply various flexible, elastic, and biocompatible polymers in layers to eventually form a three-dimensional shape. To form the intricate system of capillaries necessary for the artificial organ to function, the scientists next use a process called multiphoton polymerization. During this process, brief but intensive laser impulses impact the material and stimulate the molecules in a very small focus point so that cross linking occurs, creating a network of tiny capillaries.
The result is a complete artificial organ made of polymers and biomolecules that is not only anatomically correct, but can also transport nutrients throughout.
Article from Fraunhofer: Blood Vessels from Your Printer