A team of researchers led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT has developed a new 3D printing process for the production of artificial blood vessels. The results of the collaborative EU-project, called ArtiVasc 3D, are the foundation to cultivate a full-thickness skin model.
This was previously not possible, as a complete skin system needs blood vessels supplying the tissue. Only the upper layers of the skin with a total thickness of up to 200 µm have been cultivated so far. By developing artificial blood vessels, more complex tissue could be cultivated in vitro.
One of the project’s biggest challenges was to develop a suitable material to produce such vessels. While being biocompatible and having the right mechanical properties, the material also needs to be processable using 3D printing technology. Therefor the scientists combined the methods of inkjet printing and stereolithography. This allowed for a very fine resolution to create porous blood vessels with a layer thickness of about 20 µm using acrylate-based synthetic polymer.
“The results of ArtiVasc 3D are shaping the future. A toolbox has been developed that can respond flexibly to diverse materials, shapes and sizes. These results can be viewed as a precursor to a fully automated process chain for the production of artificial blood vessels, and which can also be integrated into existing lines.”
Additionally, the research team has successfully bred adipose tissue in a novel bioreactor. Combining fatty tissue with an existing skin model enabled them to produce a full-thickness skin model of up to 12 mm.
Besides producing full skin models, the ArtiVasc 3D project has also laid the foundations for 3D tissue engineering to create larger structures such a whole organs in the future.
The detailed results of the ArtiVasc 3D project will be presented at the closing event at Fraunhofer ILT from October 28th to 29th, 2015.