Researchers develop lung-mimicking air sac using 3D printing technology

Researchers used specially-designed 3D printing technology to develop an artificial air sac that structurally and functionally mimics similar structures found in the human lung, including the ability to pulsate or “breathe” without bursting.  The development represents a step toward the much anticipated era of 3D-printed organs, which holds promise for addressing the critical need for organ transplants, they noted.

One of the biggest roadblocks to developing these tissue replacements has been an inability to print the complex vascular networks, like airways and blood vessels of the lung or bile ducts and blood vessels in the liver, the researchers said.  But the scientists announced they have found a way to overcome this difficult hurdle. 

The researchers created an open-source bioprinting technology they call “stereolithography apparatus for tissue engineering,” or SLATE. The technique involves layer-by-layer printing of a structure using a liquid pre-hydrogel solution that becomes solid when exposed to blue light.  Using this technology, the researchers developed an artificial lung-mimicking structure complete with airways and blood vessels. The researchers are currently exploring the development of even more complex structures using the technology.

 The study, partly funded by the NHLBI, appeared in Science and was featured on the magazine’s cover.