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Artificial placenta model created with 3D printing

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Researchers created tiny structures made of bio-compatible material in the 3D printer as part of its artificial placenta project. Image courtesy of Vienna University of Technology

By Allen Cone, UPI

Researchers have developed an artificial placenta model using a high-resolution 3D printing process to resemble the natural organ.

Known as an "organ on a chip," the man-made placenta ensures the exchange of important substances between the mother and her unborn child while blocking other substances from passing through.

The scientists at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria published their findings in the current issue of the International Journal of Bioprinting.

Developed from femtosecond laser-based 3D printing process, they produced customized hydrogel membranes directly within microfluidic chips. They then are populated with placenta cells.

"The transport of substances through biological membranes plays an important role in various areas of medicine," Dr. Aleksandr Ovsianikov of the Institute of Materials Science and Technology at Vienna University of Technology said in a press release. "These include the blood-brain barrier, ingestion of food in the stomach and intestine, and also the placenta."

[post_ads]Researchers wanted to investigate the way diseases in the mother such as diabetes and high blood pressure can have an impact on the unborn child. They have been unable to investigate the function in humans directly.

To study the function, the Vienna researchers replicated organ structures on compact chips.

"Our chip consists of two areas -- one represents the fetus, the other the mother," Denise Mandt, who worked on the project as part of her thesis, said. "We use a special 3D printing process to produce a partition between them -- the artificial placenta membrane."

In initial tests, artificial placenta on the chip behaves similarly to a natural placenta in which small molecules pass through and larger ones are restrained.

Researchers at the school previously have used high-resolution 3D printing in medical studies.

With the 3D structures, details can be created point by point with a resolution in the micrometer range.

"In our case it involves a hydrogel with good biocompatibility," Ovsianikov said. "Based on the model of the natural placenta, we produce a surface with small, curved villi. The placenta cells can then colonize it, creating a barrier very similar to the natural placenta."

Important biological parameters can be closely monitored, such as the pressure, temperature, geometry and nutrient supply of the mini organs, as well as the administration of medications.

"This 'organ-on-a-chip' technology is a revolutionary approach in biomedicine, which has generated a great deal of interest in clinical diagnostics, biotechnology and pharmaceutics in recent years," Dr. Peter Ertl, head of the cell chip research group in the project, said. "The creation of human mini organs on a chip should allow the development of patient-specific therapeutic approaches, and also represents a vital method for replacing animal experiments."

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