Scientists have created artificial blood vessels using a 3D printer

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Scientists in China have created artificial blood vessels which combine mechanical strength and promote new cell growth.

The researchers at Shanghai University’s Rapid Manufacturing Engineering Centre used micro-imprinting, a type of 3D printing, and electro-spinning techniques to develop a vascular graft.

Vascular grafts are surgically attached to an obstructed or otherwise unhealthy blood vessel to permanently redirect blood flow, such as in coronary bypass surgery.

Traditional grafts work by re-purposing existing vessels from the patient’s own body or from a suitable donor.

However, these are often insufficient because of the limited supply in a patient’s body.

So there’s been a lot of research around developing synthetic vessels which can mimic natural ones, allowing new cells to grow around them and then degrade away and create new vessels.

“The composite vascular grafts could be better candidates for blood vessel repair,” said Yuanyuan Liu, an associate professor at the Rapid Manufacturing Engineering Center.

Liu’s team had previously worked with bone scaffolds, which are used to repair bone defects, before turning their attention to cardiovascular disease and vascular grafts. They describe their current research in the journal AIP Advances.

The researchers used electrospinning, a process which uses an electrical charge to draw liquid into very fine fibres.

The resulting structure isn’t very rigid so the researchers designed a three-layer model in which the mixture was electrospun onto both sides of a microimprinted middle layer of a biodegradable polymer commonly used in biomedical applications. The ends of this sheet were then folded and attached to make a tube-like vessel.

Liu and her team then seeded the scaffold with rat fibroblast cells. These are easily cultivated and have a quick growth rate.

While a good deal of work remains before the prospect of human trials, Liu and her group are optimistic about the future of the research.

The next project is to test the implants in an animal model.

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