Mar 23, 2016 | By Andre

While not wanting to lay out an over-reaching blanket statement, it’s safe to say the majority of us know someone - be it a close relative, a distant friend or even a popular celebrity - that suffers from a neurodegenerative disorder. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, just to name a few, can come out of nowhere and disrupt a life forever. Thankfully, a tremendous amount of research is being done to understand and combat these diseases every day.

A recent study published in the popular medical journal Biomaterials, for example, has introduced a 3D printing technique that promises to shed further light on what goes on in the human brain in hopes to further understand these neurodegenerative disorders more clearly.

This particular research, being done at the University of Wollongong in Australia and the University of Texas at Dallas, is focusing on using 3D printing to paint a three-dimensional picture of the human brain using newly developed, state-of-the-art bio printing techniques.

To do this, they have found a way to grow brain cells in 3D that in turn let scientists observe what happens in the brain while in a controlled laboratory setting. Using gellan gum (a substance often used as a gelling agent in microbiology labs) and bio-ink that combine with braincells, the team was actually able to grow a functioning network of cells, much like what you would find in a real brain.

Professor Gordon Wallace, an author on the paper, suggests that “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. It lets us build structures that have more real-world applications.”

While I can’t speak from any real experience on this matter, adding the extra dimension to a system that had previously only existed in two-dimension space, does appear to be potentially groundbreaking when it comes to researching how living matter reacts in a laboratory setting. We do live in a 3D world after all.

Professor Wallace continues that “the brain is enormously complex and so are neurodegenerative diseases. 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 these diseases, and help researchers working on ways to treat them.”

I recommend going through the podcast transcript with Gordon Wallace found on the lower portion of the elsevier article that summarizes the aforementioned study. It touches up on challenges, why gellan gum was used for their 3D printing, how their method works along with surprises and limitations to their research in its current state.

As we’ve reported on throughout the years, 3D bioprinting is being developed in more and more research facilities around the world. And just as Professor Wallace touches on, these early day tests to find the most appropriate 3D printable compounds are slowly making their way into real world applications. An early example of this includes strong evidence that the reconnection of nerves can be facilitated by 3D structures created using their 3D printing process.

I can’t pretend to even a surface understanding of the processes and research that are being developed in the study, but I can appreciate the knowledge, patience and commitment that they adhere to every day of their lives. It’s incredible how often they go unnoticed. The truth is, sometimes there is no eureka moment. Sometimes it’s just an ongoing trudge embarked on by these miracle workers of medicine, like the team behind this 3D bio-printing technique; and for that I salute them eternally.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Leo Stevens wrote at 4/7/2016 7:45:36 AM:

As a researcher in this study, I salute you right back. Thanks for highlighting our work and helping get your readers excited about new scientific developments!

Anja wrote at 3/23/2016 4:58:29 PM:

@NIHL3D: Thanks, fixed. Thanks you for following us.

NIHL3D wrote at 3/23/2016 4:32:48 PM:

I follow your tweets every day. Error on journal name in this post. Science Direct is the aggregater, the journal name is Biomaterials.

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