FEB 17, 2024 4:00 PM PST

The first 3D printed brain tissue

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have become the first to develop 3D printed brain tissue that functions just like normal living brain tissue. Their work offers important directions for the study of neurological diseases and potential treatments. The 3D printing approach is described in a recent article published in Cell Stem Cell.

The ability to print brain tissue, in particular, offers a promising new way to study treatments for various neurological conditions, like Alzheimer’s, which affects an estimated 6.7 per year. Researchers could test different types of treatments and study how a hypothetical brain might respond to such treatment. As expected, however, being able to print viable brain tissue that can replicate brain activity is no easy feat; in fact, many prior 3D printing attempts to do such work have been largely unsuccessful. Part of the issue has to do with how 3D printing occurs, which involves the layering of printed tissue in a vertical fashion.

UW Madison researchers opted for a horizontal layering approach. They also used an ink for printing that consisted of cells grown from specific stem cells. This printing approach helps strike a delicate balance: the tissue needed to be strong enough to hold itself together, but loose enough to allow for organic growth and interaction of neurons among one another. Neurons are then able to build connections within printed layers of tissue and between layers, simulating how the brain works

The ability to observer this activity is also crucial for the study of treatments for neurological conditions, offering more detailed insight into brain activity and how neurons work. This helps overcome another challenge to the study of the brain: researchers are often able to only glean what’s happening in one section or area of the brain. This new approach could allow researchers to better understand how the brain interacts with and communicates with itself.

Importantly, the technology needed to print brain tissue could be made widely accessible.

Sources: Science Daily; Cell Stem Cell

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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