By combining different cell populations in a fibrin bioink, researchers from Trinity College Dublin, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and University of Illinois Chicago were able to sprout an in vitro microvessel network that was then exploited to prevascularise a 3D printed scaffold implanted in a critical size femoral defect using REGENHU bioprinter. This dual approach was observed to provide higher level of vascularization and new bone formation in vivo.

While applied in this case for bone regeneration, this technique could be easily adapted to prevascularise scaffolds to target regeneration of any tissue and organs.

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For 3D bioprinted tissues to be scaled-up to clinically relevant sizes, effective prevascularisation strategies are required to provide the necessary nutrients for normal metabolism and to remove associated waste by-products. The aim of this study was to develop a bioprinting strategy to engineer prevascularised tissues in vitro and to investigate the capacity of such constructs to enhance the vascularisation and regeneration of large bone defects in vivo. From a screen of different bioinks, a fibrin-based hydrogel was found to best support human umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) sprouting and the establishment of a microvessel network. When this bioink was combined with HUVECs and supporting human bone marrow stem/stromal cells (hBMSCs), these microvessel networks persisted in vitro. Furthermore, only bioprinted tissues containing both HUVECs and hBMSCs, that were first allowed to mature in vitro, supported robust blood vessel development in vivo. To assess the therapeutic utility of this bioprinting strategy, these bioinks were used to prevascularise 3D printed polycaprolactone (PCL) scaffolds, which were subsequently implanted into critically-sized femoral bone defects in rats. Micro-computed tomography (µCT) angiography revealed increased levels of vascularisation in vivo, which correlated with higher levels of new bone formation. Such prevascularised constructs could be used to enhance the vascularisation of a range of large tissue defects, forming the basis of multiple new bioprinted therapeutics.