One of the first major medical uses for 3D printers came around a few months ago when researchers discovered that they could print working blood vessels. It was a breakthrough in medical technology and could one day lead to saving more lives through inexpensive means. That same technology has received another massive breakthrough this week that makes it even more appealing.
Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have been playing around with the idea of printing blood vessels with 3D printers for a while now. Previous efforts in building blood vessels took a long time as the device first had to print out a sugar-based cast and the cover them in stem cells to create the working vessels. The new technology can create blood vessels out of soft hydrogels in seconds.
The new printing technology is called Dynamic Optical Projection Stereolithography, or DOPsL. The speed at which DOPsL can create blood vessels is a major improvement upon any other medical technology. For now, the scientists want to use the technology to grow and study cells in the laboratory. They could theoretically, however, use it to print biological tissue. In essence, they could grow organs.
Like most major advancements in 3D printing, the innovation comes from doing away with the idea of starting from scratch. Other methods take so long because they’re laboriously layering materials that can take hours to just create one blood vessel. DOPsL takes a solution of photo-sensitive biopolymers and cells and shines light on them in such a way that layers of solid structure emerge from the solution.
It’s these kind of innovations that America should start investing more heavily in. Thankfully, this particular project was made possible by a government grant that allocated $30 million to 3D printing. If we want to become a leader in 3D printing, more investment needs to come from not just the government, but interested third-parties as well.