Scaffold-free vascular tissue engineering using bioprinting
Current limitations of exogenous scaffolds or extracellular matrix based materials have underlined the need for alternative tissue-engineering solutions. Scaffolds may elicit adverse host responses and interfere with direct cell–cell interaction, as well as assembly and alignment of cell-produced ECM. Thus, fabrication techniques for production of scaffold-free engineered tissue constructs have recently emerged. Here we report on a fully biological self-assembly approach, which we implement through a rapid prototyping bioprinting method for scaffold-free small diameter vascular reconstruction. Various vascular cell types, including smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts, were aggregated into discrete units, either multicellular spheroids or cylinders of controllable diameter (300–500 μm). These were printed layer-by-layer concomitantly with agarose rods, used here as a molding template. The post-printing fusion of the discrete units resulted in single- and double-layered small diameter vascular tubes (OD ranging from 0.9 to 2.5 mm). A unique aspect of the method is the ability to engineer vessels of distinct shapes and hierarchical trees that combine tubes of distinct diameters. The technique is quick and easily scalable.