3D Printing: An Answer for Cardiovascular Disease?
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on October 31, 2018 |

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four deaths is attributed to some form of heart disease. A main culprit in many heart conditions is the hardening of blood vessels. Unfortunately, replacing them isn’t so easy.

A team of researchers at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder turned to 3D printing as a way to potentially address the problem. The team has developed a 3D printing technique that provides localized control of an object’s firmness. This technique could open up a world of possibilities with the ability to print artificial arteries and organ tissue.

The human circulatory system consists of a complex system of blood vessels that transport blood throughout the body. A new 3D printing technique may allow printed tissue to replace hardened vessels. (Image courtesy of BioFoundations.)
The human circulatory system consists of a complex system of blood vessels that transport blood throughout the body. A new 3D printing technique may allow printed tissue to replace hardened vessels. (Image courtesy of BioFoundations.)

“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 Xiaobo Yin, CU mechanical engineering associate professor and the study’s senior author.

The research involves a layered method of printing that has a fine-grained, programmable control over rigidity. This provides the ability to mimic the highly complex structure of pliable blood vessels. The key is to tightly control oxygen migration and light exposure in order to control how hard or soft an object is—all while maintaining the precise geometry.

“Oxygen is usually a bad thing in that it causes incomplete curing,” said Yonghui Ding, mechanical engineering postdoctoral researcher and the study’s lead author. “Here, we utilize a layer that allows a fixed rate of oxygen permeation.”

The researchers used a tabletop-sized printer that works with biomaterials as small as 10 microns, or about one-tenth the width of a human hair, to demonstrate the technique. The research involved 3D printing three versions of a simple top beam supported by two rods. The structures—identical in size, shape and materials—only varied in their rod rigidity. The top beam was supported by the harder rods, while the softer ones provided leeway to either partially or fully collapse. The team repeated the technique using a small warrior figure that had a hard outside and soft inside.

The team tested different rigidity during the printing process. (Image courtesy of Nature Communications.)
The team tested different rigidity during the printing process. (Image courtesy of Nature Communications.)

“The idea was to add independent mechanical properties to 3D structures that can mimic the body's natural tissue,” Yin said. “This technology allows us to create microstructures that can be customized for disease models.”

The team’s success has the potential to make a big impact on the treatment for medical issues such as hypertension and other vascular diseases. But, the researchers aren’t done fine-tuning their work and discovering its full potential.

“The challenge is to create an even finer scale for the chemical reactions,” Yin said. “But we see tremendous opportunity ahead for this technology and the potential for artificial tissue fabrication.”

Interested in more ways 3D printing is benefiting the medical industry? Check out 3D Printed Placenta Poised to Help Explain Organ Development and 3D-Printed Tracheal Splints May Revolutionize Pediatric Care.


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