Utilizing fractal patterns similar to those created by lightning strikes, Victor Ugaz, associate professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, has created a network of microchannels that could advance the field of tissue engineering by serving as a three-dimensional vasculature for the support of larger tissue constructs, such as human organs.
Ugaz's work, which was undertaken with colleague Arul Jayaraman and appears in the July online version of "Advanced Materials," is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The findings detail the construction of an elaborate network of fractal channels that mimic the naturally occurring vasculatures found in trees as well as in the human body. The controlled manufacturing of these networks, which are capable of supporting transport of fluid, is the first step in translating this work to a tissue engineering application where it potentially stands to make a significant impact, Ugaz says.
"I think we've learned how to make these 3-D channels, and we can make them in the kinds of materials that people would use for tissue-engineering applications, in biomaterials," says Ugaz. "We've also looked at characteristics of the network, and we've shown that there are similarities to natural-occurring vasculature."
Providing man-made replacement parts to people in need of organ transplants (and bypassing the need for suitable donors) has been a chief aim of tissue engineering, but so far the field's biggest successes have been the production of skin and cartilage. This is largely due to the fact that tissue engineers have yet to effectively produce a three-dimensional vasculature that can serve as a network of artificial arteries, veins and capillaries. This network of channels is needed to support larger structures such as kidneys, Jayaraman explains.
"Developing scaffolds for tissue engineering with built-in vasculature is a high priority area in tiss
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Texas A&M University