3ders.org - New 3D printed neural scaffold could help treat spinal cord injuries | 3D Printer News & 3D Printing News

Aug 10, 2018 | By Thomas

Researchers from the University of Minnesota have developed a 3D printed guide device that could potentially help patients with long-term spinal cord injuries regain partial function of their bodies.

University of Minnesota researchers developed a prototype of a 3D-printed device with living cells that could help spinal cord patients restore some function. The size of the device could be custom-printed to fit each patient’s spinal cord. The patient’s own cells would be printed on the guide to avoid rejection in the body. Credit: University of Minnesota

The 3D printed guide, made of silicone, serves as a platform for specialised cells that are then 3D printed on top of it, according to a press release.

The guide would be surgically implanted into the injured area of the spinal cord where it would serve as a type of "bridge" between living nerve cells above and below the area of injury. The goal for this device is to help patients alleviate pain and regain some functions like control of muscles, bowel and bladder.

"This is the first time anyone has been able to directly 3D print neuronal stem cells derived from adult human cells on a 3D-printed guide and have the cells differentiate into active nerve cells in the lab," said Michael McAlpine, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota.

There are currently about 285,000 people in the United States who suffer from spinal cord injuries, with about 17,000 new spinal cord injuries nationwide each year.

"This is a very exciting first step in developing a treatment to help people with spinal cord injuries," said Ann Parr, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "Currently, there are not any good, precise treatments for those with long-term spinal cord injuries."

The new method was developed over two years. The team’s process allows researchers to start with any kind of cell from an adult, such as a skin cell or blood cell. Using new bioengineering techniques, researchers are able to reprogramme the cells into neuronal stem cells. Engineers then print these cells onto a silicone guide using a unique 3D printing technology in which the same 3D printer is used to print both the guide and the cells. The guide keeps the cells alive and allows them to change into neurons.

The team developed a prototype guide that would be surgically implanted into the damaged part of the spinal cord and help connect living cells on each side of the injury.

This color-enhanced image shows living cells that survived the 3D-printing process. Neuronal stem cells derived from adult human cells were 3-D printed on a guide and the cells differentiated into active nerve cells in the lab. Credit: University of Minnesota

"Everything came together at the right time," Parr said. "We were able to use the latest cell bioengineering techniques developed in just the last few years and combine that with cutting-edge 3-D-printing techniques."

McAlpine also described the 3D printing of “delicate” cells as very difficult. “The hard part is keeping the cells happy and alive. We tested several different recipes in the printing process," said McAlpine. "The fact that we were able to keep about 75 percent of the cells alive during the 3D-printing process and then have them turn into healthy neurons is pretty amazing.”

If the next steps are successful, the payoff for this research could be life-changing for those who suffer from spinal cord injuries. "We have found that relaying any signals across the injury could improve functions for the patients," Parr said.

The research, entitled “3D Printed Stem-Cell Derived Neural Progenitors Generate Spinal Cord Scaffolds,” is published online today in Advanced Functional Materials.

 

 

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