'Breathing lung' breaks impenetrable barrier to 3D printing organs

After the first 3D-printed heart with human tissues and vessels was unveiled last month, the first 3D-printed "breathing lung" has cleared a major hurdle in 3D printing replacement organs.

A team of bioengineers from Rice and Washington universities has developed an open-source bioprinting technology which allows them "to create exquisitely entangled vascular networks that mimic the body's natural passageways for blood, air, lymph and other vital fluids."

The research was published in Science last week.

In a video released by Rice University, researchers demonstrated a scale-model of a lung-mimicking air sac where airways and blood vessels never touch but still exchange oxygen. The model is smaller than a cent.

The seemingly simple function used to be an impenetrable barrier on the path of 3D printing organs.

"One of the biggest road blocks to generating functional tissue replacements has been our inability to print the complex vasculature that can supply nutrients to densely populated tissues," said Jordan Miller, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University and one of the leading researchers working on the project.

The bioprinting technology can solve the problem by using additive manufacturing to make soft hydrogels, one layer at a time.

Researchers used a liquid hydrogel solution to print and solidify the layer with special blue light. Eventually, producing biocompatible gels with intricate internal architecture in a matter of minutes.

"We envision bioprinting becoming a major component of medicine within the next two decades," said Miller.

(Top image via Rice University)