Vessels play a vital role in the human body, carrying blood to tissues and organs. But these tubular structures can become irreparably damaged when vascular disorders strike. To replace damaged vessels, a team of Brigham researchers is harnessing a unique method: bioprinting.
Led by Yu Shrike Zhang, PhD (pictured above), associate bioengineer in the Brigham Department of Medicine, the scientists developed a 3-D bioprinting technique to create highly viable, human vessel-like tubular structures.
“Our goal is to create tubular structures with enough mechanical stability to sustain themselves in the body and replace damaged, complex vessels.”—Yu Shrike Zhang, PhD
“The vessels in the body are not uniform,” says Zhang. “This bioprinting method generates complex tubular structures that mimic those in the human system with higher fidelity than previous techniques.”
To make the 3-D vessels, the researchers first mix human cells with a unique hydrogel that allows the cells to proliferate throughout the mixture. They then fill a 3-D bioprinter cartridge with this substance, termed bioink, and print tubular structures continuously through a custom nozzle. Researchers then circulate fluids through the printed tubes to demonstrate their ability to transport nutrients.
Just as blood vessels comprise multiple layers and various types of cells, the printed tubes have various sizes, thicknesses, and properties to match the vessels’ structural complexity and functionality. Zhang and his colleagues will continue optimizing the bioink and 3-D bioprinting parameters before testing for safety and effectiveness.
This article was originally featured in the 2018 Honor Roll, which celebrates donors to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. Check out more profiles of patients, clinicians, and researchers that illustrate the power of transformative philanthropy at the Brigham.