Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, causing nearly 18 million deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization.
In recent years, scientists have looked to regenerative therapies – including those that use 3D-printed bio-tissue to repair damaged heart muscle and restore proper blood-pumping function to the rest of the body.
Thanks to advances in 3D & 4D printing technology, engineers have applied advanced bioprinting techniques to create scaffolds and cardiac tissue that, once implanted, can quickly integrate with the body’s native tissue.
While 3D bioprinting can create 3D structures made from living cells, the end product is static, it cannot grow or change in response to changes and stimuli in its surrounding environment.
What Is 4D Bioprinting?
Conversely, in 4D bioprinting, time is the fourth added dimension of the three spatial dimensions.
Engineers apply 4D printing strategies to create structures/scaffolds using medical materials that are biocompatible with the human body (i.e., do not irritate the immune system) or responsive cells that can grow or even change their functions (reproduction, migration, differentiation, or programmed death) over time and in response to their environment.
This technology could be a game-changer for human health, especially in pediatrics, as 4D printed structures/scaffolds can grow and change as children age, eliminating the need for future surgeries to replace tissue or implanted scaffolds that cannot grow over time.
However, 4D bioprinting technology is still new. One critical challenge affecting the field is the lack of suitable bio-ink for 4D printing.
What is the Bio-Ink?
Bio-ink is a gel that is biocompatible with the human body that is used to produce living tissue-engineered using printing technology.
The bio-ink is layered on top of each other to form the scaffold upon which living cells will stick to live and reproduce.
The bio-ink required for 4D bioprinting not only meets the requirements of 3D bioprinting but also has intelligent and dynamic capabilities to regulate the behavior of cells and respond to changes in the environment wherever they are implanted in the body.
Funding the Research of 4D bioprinting to Treat Cardiovascular Diseases
Realizing this, researchers at George Washington University and the University of Maryland School of Engineering are working together to shed new light on this promising field.
Professor Lijie Grace Zhang, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at George Washington University, Professor of Bioengineering and Chair of Bioengineering at the University of Maryland Professor John Fisher has received a joint grant of $550,000 from the US National Science Foundation to study 4D bioprinting technology. For smart combinations that can be used to treat damaged heart tissue and blood vessels.
Their main goal is to design new, reprogrammable (growth and resizable) smart bio-inks that can create dynamic 4D structures capable of repairing and controlling the muscle cells that make up the heart to pump blood throughout the body as required. The muscle cells they work with, which are pluripotent stem cells (which can differentiate into more than one type of cell), are a promising source of cells that can regenerate cardiovascular muscle tissue.
In this US National Science Foundation-funded research, bio-inks and the 4D structures/scaffolds manufactured with them are considered “reprogrammable.” That is, it can be controlled by external stimuli. In this study, structures/scaffolds manufactured with new bio-inks are controlled by light. The structures/scaffolds can contract and elongate when stimulated in the same way that native cardiomyocytes expand and contract with each heartbeat.
4D Bioprinting and Using Near-Infrared Rays (NIR)
The research duo will use long-wavelength near-infrared light to act as the catalyst that drives 4D structures/scaffolding into action.
Unlike ultraviolet or visible light, long-wavelength near-infrared light can effectively penetrate bio-printed structures without causing damage to surrounding cells.
“4D live printing is now at the forefront of bioprinting,” says Dr. Zhang. “This joint research will expand our fundamental understanding of the development and functioning of stem cells suitable for myocardial reconstruction in a dynamic microenvironment for cardiovascular treatment applications. We look forward to a fruitful collaboration between our laboratories in the coming years.”
Professor Fisher said: “We are thrilled to work with Dr. Zhang and her lab team to continue developing new bio-inks for 3D and 4D printing.” “We are confident that the joint research team will continue to shed light on untapped bioprinting strategies, particularly in relation to stem cell biology and uses.”
Going forward, Dr. Zhang and Prof. Fisher hope to apply their 4D bioprinting technology in further studies of the fundamental interactions between 4D structures/scaffolds and the behaviors of cardiomyocytes.
Professor Fisher adds: “The concept of 4D bioprinting itself is so new that it is opening up areas in tissue engineering previously unimagined except by a few scientists and engineers.” “While scientists and engineers have a lot of work developing this technology, a 4D bioprinted tissue could one day change how we treat heart disease in children, or even pave the way for alternatives to the need for organ donation by donors.”
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Opportunity in postgraduate studies in 4D Bioprinting
It is worth noting that Dr. Zhang leads the Bioengineering Laboratory for Nanomedicine and Bio-Tissue Engineering at George Washington University.
At the University of Maryland, Professor Fisher leads the Center for Complex Tissue Engineering, a joint research center of the University of Maryland, Rice University and the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Fisher is also the principal investigator and director of the Laboratory of Tissue and Biomaterials Engineering, located within the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Maryland.
If you are a physics and infrared specialist with a passion for healthcare, or you are a biomedical or bioengineering professional, working in this field or completing postgraduate studies has great opportunities.
3D printing is the future of the healthcare industry not to mention the importance of bioprinting in healthcare fields.
4D printing will revolutionize the field of prosthetic medicine and tissue engineering. Do you have a question or inquiry about the content of this article? Do not hesitate to register in the site’s forums and ask your questions and inquiries.