Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and MIT have found a way to aid in the development of blood vessels for tissue regeneration by "printing" patterns into sugar.
Normal 3d printers are fantastic in their own right. After uploading a 3d rendering of a specific object, the printer carves it out of a material, usually plastic. The concept is so simple that 3d printers have even been made out of Lego's. They allow for engineers to deign custom parts quickly and cheaply on their own. While this technology is a little different, the same basic principles apply.
A problem for tissue regeneration is that most organs need a robust and complicated network of blood vessels to ensure that the tissue doesn't begin to die. By "printing" a negative of a vascular network into sugar, cells can grow around them and eventually dissolve the sugar. Blood vessel cells can then be poured into the openings and begin providing blood flow to the surrounding tissue.
While the technology isn't quite ready to create new ready-made organs, the technology provides a proof-of-concept for one of the major challenges in organ regeneration. the researchers still aren't sure how to attach the vascular networks into the circulatory system even if they could create a fully-functioning liver or kidney, but it is a step in the right direction for now.
Hear more about advances in organ regeneration at the Stem Cells USA and Regenerative Medicine Congress!