A 3D printing process that allows localised control of an object’s firmness could be used to create organ tissue and artificial arteries.
The intricate layer-by-layer technique – developed by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, US – can control the rigidity of the object and therefore mimic the flexible structure of blood vessels, such as arteries.
‘The idea was to add independent mechanical properties to 3D structures that can mimic the body’s natural tissue,’ said Xiaobo Yin, senior author and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. ‘This technology allows us to create microstructures that can be customised for disease models.’
Atherosclerosis – the hardening and narrowing of arteries – is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, blocking arteries and restricting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. When developing the technique, the Colorado researchers needed to take this into consideration.
‘Oxygen is usually a bad thing in that it causes incomplete cursing,’ said Yonghui Ding, lead author and postdoctoral researcher. ‘Here, we utilise a layer that allows a fixed rate of oxygen permeation,’ therefore controlling which areas of the object are solidified while retaining the structure.
‘This is a profound development and an encouraging first step toward our goal of creating structures that function like a healthy cell should function,’ said Ding.
At the moment, the printer is able to work with biomaterials down to 10μm. Speaking of the future , Yin said: ‘The challenge is to create an even finer scale for the chemical reactions. But we see tremendous opportunity ahead for this technology and the potential for artificial tissue fabrication.’