September 14, 2012

Image of the Week: Printing Blood Vessels and a Whole Lot More

by Christine Hoekenga

Blood vessels created using 3D printing

In a paper published this week in the journal Advanced Materials, Dr. Shaochen Chen demonstrated that blood vessels, which could eventually be used in artificial tissue, can be created using a new 3D printing technique called dynamic optical projection stereolithography. Image courtesy: Biomedical Nanotechnology Laboratory, Chen Research Group, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Do you have a good printer at home?  What about one that can print you a new car part, a toy, or another 3D object?  It may sound bizarre, but 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing because a printer typically builds an object by slowly adding layers of material) is becoming more common in a wide range of contexts, including the battlefield and the medical field.

Our image of the week shows artificial blood vessels printed by researchers in the Biomeidcal Nanoengineering Lab at US San Diego.  Their technique uses light to trigger the formation of a solid 3D structure from a solution containing cells and biomolecules that are photo-sensitive (or reactive to light).  By carefully controlling the beam of light with a series of mirrors, they are able to fabricate tiny, intricate structures like those found in nature.  They believe the new process will lead to better tools for growing cells in the lab and could eventually even allow medical professionals to print tissues for regenerative medicine.

Watch an amazing video and read about another application of 3D printing that was recently in the news: a bald eagle named Beauty was given a prosthetic beak made on a 3D printer after being injured by a gunshot. (Warning: although there’s a happy ending, images may not be suitable for sensitive readers and viewers.)

Read the Science Insider piece about the newly created National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and the wide potential uses for and benefits of 3D printing.

Read yesterday’s story in Reuters about how the business of 3D printing is starting to make its way into individual homes and garages.


Christine Hoekenga

Written by

Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.