This is no ordinary copy job: Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are using 3D printing to make new blood vessels, with “ink” derived from human cells and gel.

“We’re [interested in] developing technology that can allow us to generate in vitro models of human vessels,” said Yu Shrike Zhang, an associate bioengineer in the Brigham’s department of medicine.

Zhang said these faux blood vessels can be tailored to a particular patient and could potentially be used one day to replace damaged vessels in people with cardiovascular disease.

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To create these vessels, his team developed a printing nozzle that forms tubes with distinct layers, akin to the multilayered blood vessels that snake through the human body. To make the ink, the researchers suspended human cells in a jelly-like material infused with nutrients to support their growth. After printing, the cells thrived and multiplied within this jiggly matrix. These results were published in Advanced Materials in August.

But Zhang’s team still has a lot of tinkering to do before these tubes could be transplanted into humans. The next step is to make them fully functional and test them out on animals to understand how they work inside a living body.

Eventually, Zhang hopes that this technology could form the foundation for making more complex tissue. These blood vessels could also be used for other applications, like testing the safety and efficacy of drugs.

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