Tissue engineering – making new tissues and organs, such as the heart, liver and lungs, from cells – has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years. But replicating the complex system of blood vessels snaking through our bodies has lagged behind. The development of capillaries, veins and arteries, which deliver vital nutrients to our cells and dispose of waste, remains a great challenge in tissue engineering. But now researchers have made a major breakthrough. They used a 3D printer to make a sugar-based template to mould tiny blood vessel-like channels (shown here in green and pink), which they then covered with a gelatin-like substance called hydrogel (the blue jelly cubes). Crucially, endothelial cells – those that line blood vessels – formed within the channels. In the future, 3D printing may be used to develop tissue transplants tailored to each person’s needs.
Written by Nick Kennedy
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