Posted in | Biomaterials | 3D Printing

3D Printed Structures Help Grow Nerve Cells to Mimic Real Brain

An innovative method to 3D print brain structures has been developed by a group of US and Australian researchers. This capability will allow them to develop nerve cells to imitate a real brain.

The research reported in the Biomaterials journal has been chosen for the Elsevier Atlas award by an independent, international Advisory Board. The brain is a highly complex organ, representing 2% of human body weight and consisting of roughly 100 billion nerve cells. Animal models have been used by scientists to study the brain., however in recent years, organizations such as the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) have supported a number of research works looking for other options.

Creating brain models in laboratories is one option, allowing the brain cells to grow on a structural material. This option enables researchers to explore the inner processes occurring in the tissue. Until today, researchers have only been able to create two dimensional brain models using sheets of cells.

Professor Gordon Wallace and his collaborators from the University of Wollongong, Australia and the University of Texas at Dallas, US, have devised a method to produce layered 3D structures that more closely imitate the brain with the help of 3D printing.

The advent of 3D printing in recent years and the ability to create structures containing materials, and even living cells, gives us that ability to start to probe some very fundamental questions,. Looking at what's going on in 3D - in a similar structure to the real human brain - will give us a much better idea of the biology behind neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and help researchers working on ways to treat them.

Professor Gordon Wallace, University of Wollongong

The interdisciplinary team included chemists, materials scientists, biologists, and clinicians. They created the new 3D structures using gellan gum, a material obtained from the bacterium Sphingomonas elodea and is often employed in microbiology labs as a gelling agent. In this work, the gellan gum was used to create a bio-ink, which was then coupled to the brain cells. The presence of the gellan gum allowed the brain cells to grow well and act as a network, like in a real brain.

Inaccessibility to the human brain renders molecular studies challenging, if not impossible. A brain-like structure constructed of human cells would be invaluable for applications ranging from pathway analysis to disease modeling and drug discovery. This excellent proof-of-concept study suggests the possibility of fabricating a human brain-like structure in the future using bioprinting.

Professor Kam W. Leong, Editor-in-Chief, Biomaterials

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