3D printed blood vessel can monitor its own health

Researchers believe they may have made a major breakthrough with a 3D printed blood vessel that reports on its own health: automatically.

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are in the process of developing a 3D-printed artificial blood vessel that allows doctors to remotely monitor its health after transplant [1].

Longevity.Technology: Every year, hundreds of thousands of patients have parts of a blood vessel replaced as part of their treatment of conditions such as heart disease, stroke and blood clots. However, around 40% of these fail within the first 18 months after an operation [2]. Furthermore, doctors need CT scans, ultrasounds and other sophisticated imaging techniques to check on the grafted material’s health. All this comes at a cost.

The implantable, 3D-printed artificial blood vessel is made of a flexible composite and capable of real-time monitoring. Courtesy of Xudong Wang

Artificial blood vessels which can offer remote monitoring could represent a major breakthrough for surgeons. It makes it easier, faster and less expensive to monitor performance. However, the technology also shows promise for other applications and it will be worth watching the team’s progress closely.
The new artificial blood vessels aim to offer a solution which is not only more effective, but less expensive to monitor. The new vessel is made of a flexible composite material and can offer monitoring in real time. Electric pulses based on pressure fluctuations will measure pressure within the vessel without any additional power source. It will be able to tell if there is any irregular motion coming from a blockage at the earliest stage.

The new vessel is made of a flexible composite material and can offer monitoring in real-time. Electric pulses based on pressure fluctuations will measure pressure within the vessel.

UW–Madison professor Xudong Wang has been researching new soft and flexible materials for some time. His aim is to develop a solution which can be used in the body without causing rejection or damage. To do this his team used sodium potassium niobite piezoceramic nanoparticles with a polyvinylidene fluoride polymer which is capable of flipping its polarity when an electrical field is applied (also known as piezoelectric).

They then printed an artery using an off-the-shelf 3D printer which extrudes materials through a strong electrical field close to the nozzle to allow the structure its piezoelectric characteristics.

So far, the new vessel has undergone a number of tests involving connecting it to an artificial heart before simulating many of the issues which artificial blood vessels can face such as high blood pressure or blockages. At every stage, the material was able to detect the changes.

The next step is to refine the 3D printing process and make the material even more sensitive. However, they hope this material could lead to other structures such as artificial heart valves. In the future, they hope that it might be possible to use their ferroelectric biomaterial and 3D printer to create all sorts of custom 3D printed organs.

[1] https://bit.ly/3lxSRpv
[2] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/why-many-vein-grafts-fail

Image credit: Narupon PromvichaiPixabay