There has been talk of printing blood vessels for a few years, but it's tricky to make tissue that fits the complex shapes of a human body while remaining effective. However, a research team at Brigham and Women's Hospital may have licked that problem: they've 3D printed vessels using a new technique that allows for intricate yet capable designs. Their process first prints agarose (sugar-based molecule) fibers as templates for the vessels, and then covers that in jelly-like hydrogel to produce a cast. Since the agarose is sturdy, scientists can pull it out to create channels without damaging any cells inside the gel; the resulting vessels are much better at transporting liquid and otherwise behaving like the real deal.
This doesn't mean that you'll soon get vessels on demand. As the less than organic-looking cubes you see here suggest, there's a long way to go before these artificial constructs get under your skin. Given time, though, this breakthrough could lead to both custom-made replacement tissues for your body as well as true-to-life drug testing that doesn't involve a real human's bloodstream.
[Image credit: Khademhosseini Lab]