Pavan Atluri

Dr. Pavan Atluri, an Indian American assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, was the co-lead in a joint Rice University-UPenn project that created artificial blood cells with 3-D printing. (University of Pennsylvania photo)

A research team led by Dr. Pavan Atluri, an Indian American assistant professor of surgery in the division of cardiovascular surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, and Rice University assistant professor of bioengineering Jordan Miller have created a model allowing blood flow to cells within a 3-D printed gel.

The findings were published in the journal “Tissue Engineering Part C: Methods,” with the title, “In vivo anastomosis and perfusion of a 3-D printed construct containing microchannel networks.”

Atluri, who is also the director of UPenn’s cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory assist program and minimally invasive robotic cardiac surgery program, and the team of 11 researchers – bioengineers from Rice and surgeons from Penn – were hoping to find a way to improve survival and efficiency of cell transfer.

“The goal of this research is to generate a tissue engineered therapy to create an environment for cells to thrive during cell therapy,” Atluri told India-West. “In this model we are able to provide blood flow to cells within the 3-D printed gel that will improve survival and efficiency of cell transfer.”

The implant, made with a network of blood vessels, was created using sugar, silicone and a 3-D printer and could lead to a future of growing replacement tissues and organs for transplantation.

“As an extension of this therapy, we hope to ultimately move to being able to print tissue for true regeneration of heart muscle,” the Indian American doctor said.

The Rice-based researchers used a 3-D printer with individual fibers of sugar glass layered one at a time and printed an interlaced pattern of blood vessels. When the sugar hardened, they placed it in a mold and poured in silicone gel.

Once the gel dried, the team dissolved the sugar which left small channels in the silicone.

Following Rice’s work, the surgeons at Penn connected their finished work to an artery in a small animal model. The Penn team observed and measured blood flow and found it remained unobstructed for several hours.

The study showed that blood flowed normally through test constructs that were surgically connected to native blood vessels.

Ultimately, Atluri said, they wanted to “allow cell therapy and true tissue regeneration therapy to help patients with heart failure.”

As a result of the findings, Atluri is hopeful the new therapy can help countless patients who have heart failure.

“We are hoping that this therapy will help the nearly 300,000 patients that die from heart failure every year and the nearly 5 million people with heart failure,” he told India-West.

Atluri, however, acknowledged that the research is still in its infancy.

“We are very excited that we have made the first strides in being to regenerate heart muscle by providing the requisite vascular backbone,” Atluri said.

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