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It's alive! Breakthrough holds great promise for tissue engineering

One of the remarkable things about stem cells is that when placed in their typical environment -- in terms of shape, mechanical forces, and chemical signals -- they tend to differentiate into the desired tissue type.

The difficulty is creating the proper environment.

Among the most daunting tasks of tissue engineering is growing blood vessels.  In order to create functional organs, a tissue engineer must intubate the growing target tissue with blood vessels.  But creating the proper 3D structure to coax stem cells into differentiating into the correct kinds of endothelial and muscular cells to form the blood vessels has been a daunting task.  So far most efforts using techniques like micro-contact printing and photolithography have only been able to create crude 2D structures.

But researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) -- a top player in the field of tissue engineering --have used a new method called dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL) to grow a fractal network of 3D blood vessels out of soft biocompatible gel.

In recent years stereolithography has become a big deal in the world of manufacturing of machinery and vehicles, given its ability to create 3D parts or dies.  Alternatives -- such as two-photon photopolymerization -- remain far slower and less efficient, taking hours to make a part.

Blood Vessels
UCSD researchers grew a blood vessel network, using stereolithography.
[Image Source: Chen Group/UCSD]

But for all its promise, work to adapt stereolithography to a microscopic scale is still in its rudimentary beginnings.

Funded by a $1.5M USD grant from the National Institutes of Health, the UCSD team created a working prototype of micromirrors, which direct light to solidify photosensitive liquid biogel.  Controlled by the computer, the mirrors were able to pattern a network of 3D blood vessels in mere seconds.

The team -- led by NanoEngineering Professor Shaochen Chen -- says they're still a long way from simply growing blood cells to replacement organs.  In the short term, however, the technology will likely first be applied to attempts to better grow and differentiate diverse tissues in the lab.  For example the method could add vasculature to a growing cardiac tissue, improving its survival.

Eventually, Professor Chen, like many of his colleagues around the country, envisions a future in which mankind can simply "print" rich multi-tissue replacement organs -- say a heart, kidney, or liver -- then populate the framework with stem cells and chemicals, grow it for a couple months, then finally pop the finished product into a human.

The technology could eventually be applied to growing livers and other replacement organs.
[Image Source: Toronto Transplant Institute]

They're working hard to reach that goal, and stereolithography may play a crucial role in getting there, now that it's hit the scene.

Source: UCSD

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This is Sci-Fi coming to life!
By Pirks on 9/14/2012 3:05:21 PM , Rating: 2
We're maybe a few decades away from this, and only our grand children will see this but this organ printing/growing thing is a third SUPER MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH after the discovery of electricity and space flight.

My wife is already asking when they start to print or grow children in tubes Matrix style? Says pregnancy and labor are very unpleasant, and women would go for tube grown children in a heart beat. Well, some will abstain of course for various reasons but still...

RE: This is Sci-Fi coming to life!
By MrBlastman on 9/14/2012 3:14:52 PM , Rating: 2
I have a feeling that even though technologically speaking, this is limitless in what we can do (including eventually manufacturing potentially entire humans), we will reach a natural limit through low-tech means.

Humanity itself could eventually limit it. We have to remember who is breeding the most... and through this reproduction comes a populace filled with contempt and lack of insight. I think humans will self-defeat themselves through all of this and programs such as these will be stopped through ignorant popular action rather than logic prevailing.

We shall see as it will take some time to happen but the potential is there. Until then, I love this technology. :) I just wish it could be perfected sooner than later.

RE: This is Sci-Fi coming to life!
By Pirks on 9/14/2012 4:52:55 PM , Rating: 2
Humanity itself could eventually limit it
It is doing it right now, the rich countries have shrinking population which is compensated by immigration from poorer more fertile countries, looks at France native population being slowly naturally replaced by more fertile African Muslims. This thing about growing organs, however, is not about population control at all, as well as growing kids in tubes. It's all about overcoming the flaws of nature that were given to us by evolution. The ultimate holy grail of this process is the auto evolution when we learn how to control our genes so that our kids grow up healthy, beautiful, smart, w/o psychological problems, inherited diseases etc etc. But this is so far away we can't even remotely imagine what that would look like in 200 or 300 years or so. However this organ growth is a first real step towards it and it seems to be much closer than autoevolution. I feel like Tsiolkovsky would if he were watching Gagarin's flight in 1961. You know this is the first baby step into the totally different super advanced tech future and this is what makes it so exciting. I almost feel like I already see those Matrix glass bubbles with babies grown inside them :)

RE: This is Sci-Fi coming to life!
By anactoraaron on 9/14/2012 3:50:46 PM , Rating: 2
My wife

Wait, what? All this time I thought you were a chick...

Your favorite troll

RE: This is Sci-Fi coming to life!
By Jedi2155 on 9/14/2012 5:31:18 PM , Rating: 2
Chicks with dicks?

By drycrust3 on 9/15/2012 2:22:40 PM , Rating: 3
and women would go for tube grown children in a heart beat.

Unfortunately ... human history tells us there are people who consider the phrase "blood is thicker than water" to be the guide for loving and caring for children. No matter what laws a country has, no matter what the social expectations are, unless a child has half of their own DNA in them they will never consider them as their own children, and even if the child does have half their DNA from that parent that doesn't guarantee acceptance.
Also, it wouldn't surprise me if "tube grown" became grounds for racial segregation, inequality, and degradation of human rights in some cultures.

RE: This is Sci-Fi coming to life!
By theapparition on 9/17/2012 9:35:46 AM , Rating: 2
That's just your wife's way of telling you that she doesn't want to have sex with you anymore.

RE: This is Sci-Fi coming to life!
By Pirks on 9/17/2012 2:22:06 PM , Rating: 2
Wow, you are a really dumb idiot if you understand it like this :))) hahaha

By theapparition on 9/19/2012 9:49:44 AM , Rating: 2
Grow up.

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