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Fraunhofer leads project to grow artificial tissues

13 Feb 2012

A European consortium will use laser-based additive manufacturing to produce substrates on which skin grafts can grow.

A four-year project led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology is aiming to develop new ways to manufacture a vascularized scaffold on which artificial tissue can be grown.

Producing substantial areas of artificial tissues for skin grafts currently requires a structure capable of supplying the necessary nutrients and blood to the cells, to ensure that they are provided with a blood supply similar to that given by a natural artery. Without that vascularization, only patches of tissue less than 1 cm2 in area and 1 to 2 mm thick can be successfully manufactured.

The ArtiVasc 3D project will receive €7.8 million under the European Commission's FP7 program to develop new manufacturing processes for these vascularized scaffolds, and brings together 16 European partners from industry and the research community.

Speaking to optics.org, Nadine Seiler of Fraunhofer ILT said that the project would develop techniques based on established additive manufacturing principles to build up the substrates.

"The main goal of ArtiVasc 3D is to build up a branched vascular structure, using a combination of laser technology and an approach based on inkjet printing," she said. "With the high spatial resolution of the laser irradiation, we are able to induce photo-polymerization in specially developed biocompatible polymers. This produces scaffolds that can be populated with skin cells taken from an individual donor, enabling the formation of vascularized fatty tissue and ultimately of artificial skin."

One goal of the project will to investigate which particular laser parameters are the most significant for this particular photo-polymerization process, and the group intends to use commercially available laser sources for its work.

"The main goal of the project is very ambitious," noted Seiler. "This particular combination of processes is new, and offers the opportunity to build up a controlled vascularized tissue. If we can achieve it, we will have a tissue which will be very useful for in vitro trials and for pharmaceutical testing, and which could also help to reduce the need for animal tests. A future goal is to use this scaffold as an implant, for example for burn victims."

• Additive manufacture is a general term for techniques which can rapidly build up solid structures from particulate or non-fused materials layer by layer, and includes processes such as laser sintering. The inkjet variant involves depositing droplets of photo-curable liquid in a carefully controlled manner, and then inducing a phase change from liquid to solid through the action of a laser.

Fraunhofer ILT has been a leader in the study of additive manufacturing for more than 20 years, and originally developed the selective laser melting process for metallic materials in 1996. Eleven individual Fraunhofer institutes, including Fraunhofer ILT, cooperate under the umbrella of the Fraunhofer Additive Manufacturing Alliance, and form the largest interdisciplinary alliance on the topic in Europe.

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