3D Printers That Can Create Synthetic Blood Vessels

For some time now, printing technology has been pushing the boundaries of mass production. 3D printers make solid objects by building in vertical layers on a two-dimensional print. These printers have been used to make industrial components, architectural models, clothing and even user-designed chocolates. But researchers around the world have focused on printing medical advances--with some truly amazing results.

Last year, James Yoo of Wake Forest University proved that it was possible to print artificial skin directly onto burn patients. The trouble Yoo's team ran into was creating internal vasculature in the skin they created, obviously a crucial component to any functional tissue. Then this spring, surgeon Anthony Atala printed a model of a human kidney on stage at the 2011 TED conference. Atala's innovation allowed a 3D printer to scan the organ that needed to be replaced. Using a small tissue sample from the patient, the printer then replicated the tissue and built a new organ. While an advance in lab-grown organs, these kidney models similarly lacked any kind of circulatory system.

Until now, the only thing holding printers back from true organ creation was this inability to supply artificial tissues with the nutrients that arrive in natural tissues through capillaries. But on September 13th, a group from Fraunhofer Institute in Germany announced they have created a way to print blood vessels. Scientists have been able to actually print synthetic blood vessels using "two-photon polymerisation" -- essentially using strong laser beams to stimulate molecules into linked elastic solids. These tube-like vessels, when coated with modified bio-molecules, can connect with a human's natural tissue, forming an artificial circulatory system that can be linked up to the patient's natural circulatory system.

This advance in printing technology may prove the crucial next step in enabling scientists to truly mass produce bone, skin, and replacement organs in a laboratory. In 2007, 2.5 million Americans waiting for a transplant organ died. While still in the early stages of development, this technology could save millions of lives.

Presented by

Lois Farrow Parshley

Lois Parshley is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy magazine.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In