A team from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created artificial microvasculature. The microvessel technology will help to create new tissues and provide an important tool for evaluating new therapies.

The multi-layered microvessels combine polymers that are compatible with human cells, but also encourage cell growth and function.

Human cells of a specific type can be mixed with appropriately customized materials destined for each layer of the microvessel. All mixtures are then focused simultaneously into the appropriate layers as the microvessels are built.

The structure's hollow tube is lined with the endothelial cells that handle the removal of waste from the surrounding tissue. The cells also transfer oxygen and nutrients into and out of the blood.

The next polymer layer contains smooth muscle cells that make the blood vessel flexible without losing its shape; the third – and final – layer is a polymer embedded with cells that produce fibrous material to physically support the blood vessel.

“These three layers are what you’d expect to see in a major blood vessel, like the femoral artery in your leg,” said researcher Michael Daniele, now an assistant professor in NC State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as the joint Biomedical Engineering Department. “But our technique can be modified; you don’t have make all three layers. This is important, because the tiniest blood vessels in our bodies – like the capillaries in your extremities – are lined only with endothelial cells.”