Study: 3-D printed patch can help grow blood vessels

Researchers have developed a 3-D printed patch, infused with cells, that can help grow health blood vessels, according to a press release.

In an article published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the researchers said the patch fosters the growth of new blood vessels, and avoids some of the problems related to other methods of treating ischemia.

“Therapeutic angiogenesis, when growth factors are injected to encourage new vessels to grow, is a promising experimental method to treat ischemia,” Christopher Chen, BME, MSE, one of the researchers at the Boston University College of Engineering, said in the release. “But in practice, the new branches that sprout form a disorganized and tortuous network that looks like sort of a hairball and doesn’t allow blood to flow efficiently through it. We wanted to see if we could solve this problem by organizing them.”

According to the release, Chen and colleagues developed two patches with endothelial cells, one in which the cells were previously organized into a specific form, and the other in which the cells were injected without any structure. The findings suggest the patches with previously organized structure showed improvement in reducing the prevalence of ischemia. The patches with no organization resulted in what Chen referred to as a “hairball.”

The 3-D printed vessels, measuring 100 microns, were created with the help of Innolign, a Boston-based biomedical technology company founded by Chen. According to the release, the 3-D printing technology allowed the researchers to quickly change and test their designs, and allowed for scalability.

“One of the questions we were trying to answer is whether or not architecture of the implant mattered, and this showed us that yes, it does, which is why our unique approach using a 3D printer was important,” Chen said in the release. “The pre-organized architecture of the patch helped to guide the formation of new blood vessels that seemed to deliver sufficient blood to the downstream tissue. While it was not a full recovery, we observed functional recovery of function in the ischemic tissue.”

The research team will now continue their work on the scalability of the patches, and experiment with different forms to determine if there is a structure results in even better outcomes, according to the release.

“This project has been long in the making, and our clinical collaborators have been indispensable to the success of the project,” Chen said in a release. “As a bioengineer, we were focused on how to build the patch itself, while the clinical perspective was critical to the design process. We look forward to continuing our partnerships as we move forward.”


Mirabella T, et al. Nat Biomed Eng. 2017;doi: 10.1038/s41551-017-0083.

Disclosure: Chen reports being the founder of Innolign.

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