Scientists create first ‘living’ aneurysm using human cells

  • LLNL researchers have 3D-printed a first-ever 'living' aneurysm
  • Available treatments for brain aneurysms are challenging, and this model may help to simplify the process for doctors
  • Their discovery will hopefully be useful in personalising these models to suit individual patients in future  

Fake aneurysms have been created in the past, but for the first time ever, scientists from the US have created a bio-printed aneurysm using human cells, outside the human body, conducted a medical procedure on it, and observed its healing process.

Brain aneurysms, defined by Health24 as an abnormal widening or ballooning in a blood vessel, runs the risk of rupturing over time and causing life-threatening complications. Although treatments exist, they are challenging to treat as the blood vessels in the brain are incredibly hard to reach.

This is why the research team decided to create it, and hope that in future, it can give doctors some hands-on training time before they perform treatment inside the brains of patients.

Their study was published in Biofabrication.

Available treatments and its challenges

If doctors spot a brain aneurysm in patients before it ruptures, doctors will attempt to stop or disrupt blood flow to the area, thereby potentially preventing the aneurysm from growing or bursting. There are different options to do this.

Surgical clipping is one option, and includes a surgeon removing part of the patient’s skull to insert a small metal clip on the base of the aneurysm.

Another option is what’s known as endovascular coiling. For this treatment method, a catheter is passed through the groin up into the artery containing the aneurysm, and then threaded through the body to the aneurysm, explains Johns Hopkins Medicine. A coil is then pushed through the catheter and into the aneurysm, preventing blood from reaching it.

However, surgical clipping and endovascular coiling are both tricky, especially when it comes to deciding which one is best suited to individual patients. 

Creating treatments that best serve patients

"We looked at the problem and thought that if we could pair computational modelling and experimental approaches, maybe we could come up with a more deterministic method of treating aneurysms or selecting treatments that could best serve the patient," said senior author and engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, William Hynes.

"Now we can start to build the framework of a personalised model that a surgical practitioner could use to determine the best method for treating an aneurysm," he added.

Their experiment involved a 3D-printed aneurysm-shaped structure (using gelatin-fibrin hydrogel). They then introduced the human brain endothelial cells.

Eight days after their procedure, the team observed the endothelium beginning to heal itself – blood flow was disrupted, proving that their model had worked.

Still a long way to go

However, despite their success, the researchers explained that there is still a long way to go before the model can be ready for use by doctors, although they are optimistic that, with the help of patient brain scans and computer modelling systems, physical models can be personalised to a specific patient's aneurysm in future.

They also wrote that their development may be a better option for evaluating new treatments than animal models, and together with computer modelling, it could reduce the time it takes for new surgical techniques to get to the clinic.

"This in vitro model can be used for training surgeons or medical students to deploy neurovascular devices into a complex vascular structure," the researchers wrote.

"[It] can be readily utilised in investigations related to analysing clotting responses of embolisation devices, healing responses after treatment, and the biophysical mechanisms of aneurysm formation or rupture using the resulting haemodynamic data."

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