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
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.