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Bioprinting of artificial blood vessels: Current approaches towards a demanding goal

: Hoch, E.; Tovar, G.E.M.; Borchers, K.


European journal of cardio-thoracic surgery 46 (2014), No.5, pp.767-778
ISSN: 1010-7940
ISSN: 1567-4258
ISSN: 1873-734X
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IGB ()

Free-form fabrication techniques, often referred to as ‘3D printing’, are currently tested with regard to the processing of biological and biocompatible materials in general and for fabrication of vessel-like structures in particular. Such computer-controlled methods assemble 3D objects by layer-wise deposition or layer-wise cross-linking of materials. They use, for example, nozzle-based deposition of hydrogels and cells, drop-on-demand inkjet-printing of cell suspensions with subsequent cross-linking, layer-by-layer cross-linking of synthetic or biological polymers by selective irradiation with light and even laser-induced deposition of single cells. The need of vessel-like structures has become increasingly crucial for the supply of encapsulated cells for 3D tissue engineering, or even with regard to future application such as vascular grafts. The anticipated potential of providing tubes with tailored branching geometries made of biocompatible or biological materials pushes future visions of patient-specific vascularized tissue substitutions, tissue-engineered blood vessels and bio-based vascular grafts. We review here the early attempts of bringing together innovative free-form manufacturing processes with bio-based and biodegradable materials. The presented studies provide many important proofs of concepts such as the possibility to integrate viable cells into computer-controlled processes and the feasibility of supplying cells in a hydrogel matrix by generation of a network of perfused channels. Several impressive results in the generation of complex shapes and high-aspect-ratio tubular structures demonstrate the potential of additive assembly methods. Yet, it also becomes obvious that there remain major challenges to simultaneously match all material requirements in terms of biological functions (cell function supporting properties), physicochemical functions (mechanical properties of the printed material) and process-related (viscosity, cross-linkability) functions, towards the demanding goal of biofabricating artificial blood vessels.