Researchers at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine are developing 3-D printing methods to create the tiny blood vessels needed to feed vital organs.

Jordan Miller, a bioengineering professor at Rice, and Mary Dickinson, a biophysicist at Baylor College of Medicine, recently published a paper describing how they use 3-D printing techniques to create the blood vessels, known as capillaries.

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Miller and Dickinson’s technique uses a combination of different types of cells to start tubulogenesis, which creates the capillaries. The process can also help with the creation of replacement organs, as the tiny blood vessels are needed to feed vital nutrients to the cells.

Capillaries are made from networks of endothelial cells. Most methods used to grow these cells in a laboratory setting leave them vulnerable to damage.

The Rice/Baylor method converts a specific type of stem cells into endothelial cells, which can endure the process and create the necessary capillaries.

Tissue engineering involves a combination of materials science and cell biology to create whole or partial organs using 3-D printers to create living cells, a method known as 3-D bioprinting. Unlike a standard 3-D printer, however, a bioprinter uses biological material, such as stem cells, to create the finished product.

Giselle Calderon, a graduate student on the project, said the process “has important therapeutic implications:”

“It is something we can readily 3-D print for future tissue-engineering applications,” she continued.

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Professor Miller said one of the ultimate goals of the project is “to create fully vascularized tissues for therapeutic applications.”

In Houston, printed body parts may not be science fiction for much longer AP Photo/John Bazemore