Dusting Day, Brigham Young University
Atherosclerotic vascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and death in the United States. Approximately 1.4 million surgical procedures are required every year for treatment of vascular disease and its subsequent issues. While saphenous vein and internal mammary artery grafts are most commonly chosen by physicians, many patients who are in need of arterial grafts have vessels that are not ideal for grafting because of damage to the vessels or disease. This introduces the necessity for synthetic blood vessel grafts that function precisely as natural vessels in vivo. Our blood vessel research team has entered the tissue engineering field in its most exciting effort: the scalable rendering of cell-seeded vascular constructs with rapid prototyping machines or 3D printers. We have built and are modifying a 3D printer to deposit living endothelial and smooth muscle cells into vascular structures. Using agar, alginate, or collagen gels as placement media, cells can be arranged in shapes resembling multilayered artery tubules and proliferate to form functional arteries. The endothelial layer and smooth muscle layer of cells interact to secrete a natural extracellular matrix (ECM) between them. We have successfully cultured endothelial cells and are perfecting our technique of harvesting aortic smooth muscle cells for culture. These cells will be encapsulated in a gel we have optimized for cell adhesion and proliferation and will then be printed with our rapid prototyping machine into the shape of a blood vessel. After proper cell growth and secretion of the ECM we will subject our synthetic graft to tensile strength testing, thrombosis tests, and eventually implantation into an animal for observation of any immunogenic effects. Our project’s success would bring an array of new treatment options through biomedical engineering that would save many lives of those who suffer from cardiovascular disease.