Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Sciences (ACES) at the University of Wollongong in Australia have developed a structure of neural cells using 3D printing that acts much like human brain tissue.
With around 86 billion nerve cells, the human brain is incredibly complex and multi-faceted. This is the main reason the brain is hardly understood compared to other organs in the body. But recent developments in 3D printing brain tissue could help scientists learn so much more about the mysterious organ.
The possibility of creating a “bench-top brain’ with these tissues will not only teach us more about how the brain functions, but it will also serve as a preferred test bed for experimental drugs and electroceuticals. Pharmaceutical companies largely rely on testing therapeutic drugs with animal subjects, spending millions of dollars only to learn that the drugs affect the human brain much differently. If large amounts of this new tissue become available at an affordable price, then companies can perform tests that will not only increase drug safety, but also result in better drugs than they would have achieved with animal testing.
Beyond aiding in the development of more effective drug treatments, the new 3D printed tissue will also aid researchers in understanding brain disorders (such as schizophrenia), as well as degenerative diseases of the brain such as dementia. The first step in this will be understanding the human brain’s complicated neural networks better.
The director of ACES and author on the research project, Professor Gordon Wallace, said, "We are still a long way from printing a brain but the ability to arrange cells so as they form neuronal networks is a significant step forward.”
How It All Works
Researchers were able to create the neural cell structure in six-layers by creating a novel bio-ink with carbohydrate materials. The naturally occurring materials manage to not only facilitate accurate cell dispersion within the layers, but also protect the cells.
On top of it all, the 3D printing optimized bio-ink can be used in a standard cell culturing facility, eliminating the need for expensive equipment to bio-print the structure. The layered neural tissue is structured like human brain tissue—with all component cells located in the appropriate place within their layer.
For Wallace and his colleagues at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Sciences, the successful development of neural tissue is only the first step in developing high-quality replicas of organ structures to aid biomedical and pharmaceutical research.
"This study highlights the importance of integrating advances in 3D printing, with those in materials science, to realise a biological outcome," Professor Wallace said.
"This paves the way for the use of more sophisticated printers to create structures with much finer resolution.”
Photo Credits: 3DPrint.com