The Sweetest (Blood) Vessel

A spoonful of sugar helps the blood vessels take form!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Many patients wait for years for a donor organ. If they get lucky? They’ll have to take medication to prevent rejection for the rest of their lives. These troubles would be no problem if they could print an organ just for you!

With the advent of three-D printers, printable organs are slowly becoming a possibility. However, a major roadblock to our sci-fi future is blood! Creating a three-D labyrinth of blood vessels from scratch is a daunting task.

Enter researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and M-I-T! Instead of attempting to directly print blood vessels, they looked for a way to create a mold. And they found a sweet solution – literally!

The researchers created a three dimensional lattice of tubes using sugar. Blood vessel cells were poured over the sugar lattice and solidified like jello over fruit. However, unlike fruit, the lattice could be dissolved away. This left behind small, evenly spaced tubes. In other words, blood vessels!

Suddenly, creating the complex blood vessels of the heart and kidney becomes a cakewalk.

Sugar, terrible for your blood—but surprisingly good for making your blood vessels!