Dec 12, 2016 | By Benedict

Researchers at Aston University, a British research and educational institution based in Birmingham, are attempting to replicate the brain’s neural networks using 3D nanoprinting techniques. The project, called MESO-BRAIN, will use pluripotent stem cells generated from adult human cells.

When HBO’s hit series Westworld wrapped up last week, many of us were left scratching our heads over various philosophical questions raised in the show: What makes us human? What is consciousness? Can a conscious mind be created from scratch? But while the show’s ultra-lifelike robot “hosts,” whose digital minds rock back and forth on the brink of human consciousness, are merely the stuff of fiction, scientists at a top UK university are hoping to do something similar in real life.

Proving that the world of 3D printing is occasionally stranger than fiction, researchers at Aston University are aiming to create working parts of a human brain, for both screening and transplantation purposes, by fabricating neural networks with a 3D nanoprinter. “This research carries the potential to enable us to recreate brain structures in a dish,” said Dr Eric Hill, Programme Director for MSc Stem cells and Regenerative Medicine at Aston University. “This will allow us to understand how brain networks form during development and provide tools that will help us understand how these networks are affected in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

According to researchers at Aston, which is located in the UK’s second most populous city, Birmingham, the new “MESO-BRAIN” project will involve the use of pluripotent stem cells generated from adult human cells that have been turned into brain cells. These brain cells will then be 3D printed in precise forms to create neural networks with specific biological architectures, with the activity of the networks monitored using advanced imaging and detection techniques.

Those involved with MESO-BRAIN say that the neural 3D printing project could revolutionize medical and neuroscience research, with drug testing and treatment screening able to be performed on 3D printed, living human neural networks instead of human or animal subjects. This could help to advance important research being undertaken to tackle brain conditions like dementia. In the future, the 3D printed neural networks could even be used to repair or replace damaged parts of a human brain for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or other brain trauma.

Aston University, Birmingham, UK, where MESO-BRAIN research will be carried out

“What we’re hoping to achieve with this project has, until recently, been the stuff of science-fiction,” said Professor Edik Rafailov, head of MESO-BRAIN. “If we can use 3D nanoprinting to improve the connection of neurons in an area of the brain which has been damaged, we will be in a position to develop much more effective ways to treat those with dementia or brain injuries.”

The groundbreaking MESO-BRAIN project, expected run for a duration of three years, has received €3.3million in funding from the European Commission as part of the Future and Emerging Technology (FET) scheme. Aston is leading the 3D printing endeavor, but there will also be contributions from Axol Bioscience Ltd, Laser Zentrum Hannover, The Institute of Photonic Sciences, University of Barcelona, and Kite Innovations.

“To date, attempts to replicate and reproduce cells in this way have only ever delivered 2D tissues or poorly defined 3D tissues that do not resemble structures found within the human body,” Rafailov added. “The new form of printing we are aiming to develop promises to change this. The MESO-BRAIN project could improve hundreds of thousands of lives.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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