3D Printers Can Now Churn Out “Living” Blood Vessels

Illustration for article titled 3D Printers Can Now Churn Out “Living” Blood Vessels

In a breakthrough that could lead to printable organs and an enhanced understanding of human physiology, researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Labs have 3D-printed functional blood vessels that look and function like the real thing.

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3D bioprinters are similar to conventional 3D printers, but instead of using inert materials, they use “bio-ink:” basic structural building blocks that are compatible with the human body.

To create the 3D-printed blood vessels, a LLNL team headed by research engineer Monica Moya combined this special biomaterial with living cells. The material and environment were designed to enable small blood vessels, or human capillaries, to develop on their own. A release from LLNL explains:

This process takes a while, so initially, tubes are printed out of cells and other biomaterials to deliver essential nutrients to the surrounding printed environment. Eventually, the self-assembled capillaries are able to connect with the bio-printed tubes and deliver nutrients to the cells on their own, enabling these structures to function like they do in the body.

“If you take this approach of co-engineering with nature you allow biology to help create the finer resolution of the printed tissue,” Moya said. “We’re leveraging the body’s ability for self-directed growth, and you end up with something that is more true to physiology. We can put the cells in an environment where they know, ‘I need to build blood vessels.’ With this technology we guide and orchestrate the biology.”

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The resulting blood vessels cannot be transplanted, but they’re suitable for toxicology studies and medical treatment testing (which will lead to a decreased dependency on lab animals), and Moya says they will provide a test bed for fundamental science. What’s more, 3D bioprinting efforts like these could eventually lead to so-called organs on a chip, which will help to alleviate the current organ donor shortage.

The LLNL scientists will soon be able to utilize a brand new 3D bioprinting lab equipped with a more precise printer capable of higher resolution and larger structures.

“It’s going to change the way we do biology,” said Moya.

[ Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ]


Email the author at george@gizmodo.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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DISCUSSION

Imagine tens of billions of nanobots in a swarm performing molecular nano-assembly contained in a nutrient/energy grid. Imagine now that there was enough energy and speed from each nanobot to assemble an entire, living cell in less than a millisecond, with the entirety of an organism coming together in less than the blink of an eye. That’s the future, and the kind of immortality likely to exist. We’ll exist as digital/organic hybrids who occupy created bodies. Maybe some people will only feel comfortable being in one body at any particular time. Maybe some will be able to control hundreds of such bodies. And imagine the kind of consciousness that would compose being able to have multiple bodies in multiple locations. Each one reporting back to the core and sharing its experiences. Sort of a clone node. Would that cheapen human life? What if each clone node had the same rights as the whole? Its possible to percieve that laws against personal aggression would have to become far more strict. Imagine feeling what its like to get beaten up three times at once - or imagine if someone raped one of your bodies. Or murdered you. And you’re still alive with those memories. How much worse is that for a psyche?

And what happens when a clone-node becomes seperated, is no longer a part of the network for long enough for it to be considered an independent copy of *you*. Cause, every single node would have to be considered legally you - since any one of them can be you at any point in time.

Of course, such a future will have solved a lot of problems. Resources, for one, would be highly recycled. We tend to think in terms of expense - but really the human body is just about $2000 worth of raw materials. You could buy a body like you could a used car. The nanobots assemble themselves and would be ubiquitious. The energy - lets face it we’re either going to have alternate energy soon or there won’t be a humanity to worry about it. I think we’re going to be harvesting solar energy from space once we have the space-resource harvesting down. We’ll build hundreds of 10km radius solar collectors which have the added benefit of being able to block a tiny portion of the sun’s energy while collecting it and beaming it back to earth. When you think in those terms, the resources to create dozens of clone nodes - not much in the grand scheme of things.

Here comes the future. One molecule at a time. :)