Next time you need restorative surgery on any of the tiny blood vessels in your body, there's a chance it may be as simple as feeding a computer details of the size and length of the vessels and asking it to print you up a few meters of new piping.
The notion is the result of research work carried out by Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology. Together, they have developed a method for creating artificial veins and capillaries using an inkjet printer [Subscription link].
The method involves injecting 'ink' made of artificial cells and medical gel into a solution of calcium chloride. The mix then solidifies into a tube with an inner coating of endothelial cells and an outer case of smooth muscle cells that has the potential to replace damaged blood vessels.
So far, the team has created a prototype with an inner diameter of 1mm and a length of 3cm. It isn't robust enough yet to actually be used. But once it can be made sufficiently sturdy, there's no reason why the technique can't be expanded to print out sheets of cells that can be built up into entire artificial organs.