A little over a year ago, we told you about innovative Chinese biotechnological company Sichuan Revotek Co., Ltd, the first producer in the world of 3D printed blood vessels. They actually came up with a whole package in 2015, including a 3D bioprinter, a cloud computing platform, and stem cell bio-ink technology called Biosynsphere, which offers patient-specific bioprinting for stem cells. Located in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, the company explained that blood vessels are an incredibly important aspect of bioprinting, since nutrients use them to travel to organs. So if scientists hope to make 3D printed organs soon, perfecting the process of 3D printing blood vessels is crucial.
Sichuan Revotek has just announced a major medical research breakthrough that could eventually save thousands of lives: they have successfully developed and 3D printed actual living, functioning blood vessels. These are totally organic and not prosthetic vessels, like these vascular prosthetics. Researchers were able to 3D print layers of new cells, using bio-ink made of living stem cells from a Rhesus monkey, and fuse them with the old cells.
Kang Yujian, Chief Scientist of Sichuan Revotek, explains, “In five days, a new layer of endodermis will be formed, meanwhile, the smooth muscle cells will grow as well. And within 28 days, all these cells will go through tissue differentiation. That means the tissues we implanted will have mingled with the original ones and grown into a regular vessel. This is unprecedented.”
The health-care startup chose Chengdu as its home in 2014, partly due to the region’s abundant supply of available monkeys that were ideal for medical testing their human treatments, as well as drawing $33 million in funding from a local real estate company that was looking to diversify. Chengdu has several businesses that would benefit from a similar investment by the city; many Chinese provinces have created unique zones where new business ventures, especially technology startups and medical research firms, can seek funding opportunities, due to a country-wide campaign to encourage entrepreneurship.
After months of observing the 30 Rhesus monkeys that were used in the experiment, scientists discovered that the 3D printed blood vessels completely blended in with the original ones. Even better news, all of the Rhesus monkeys are in good condition! This isn’t always the case, so I was especially glad to hear that the animal test subjects were alive and well.
“Printing a 3D blood vessel is quite remarkable, but what’s even more is to print a vessel that contains all sorts of bio-active substances,” said Dai Kerony, academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering. “If we can apply this technology to blood vessels, then we can also use it on livers, kidneys and other organs. That’s how groundbreaking this technology is.”
It’s early days yet, but it’s not hard to imagine a future where a person suffering organ failure could be saved with this type of technology. If something as tiny and intricate as a blood vessel can be 3D printed, then possibly organs like kidneys and livers could be as well.