Dec 11, 2015 | By Alec

If only one part of 3D printing technology can be called revolutionary, it must surely be the life-saving biomedical applications that are currently under development. Though most of those studies are projected to take years to complete, some very intriguing successes are already being made. While we’ve previously seen 3D bioprinted tissue before, a team of scientists from the University of Melbourne, Australia, have done something truly groundbreaking: they have successfully 3D printed spheres of cortical tissue, a type of brain cells.

This intriguing success was achieved by a team of scientists from the Centre for Neural Engineering at the University of Melbourne, and center leader Professor Stan Skanfidas is already optimistic about these small clumps of cells. The brain tissue has been made from human stem cells, which have been 3D printed using the institute’s special bio 3D printer to form up to six layers of brain tissue. The resultant brain cells are already capable of connecting and communicating with each other. They even form the same folding patterns as a sort of proto brain structure.

While this is just an initial success, professor Skafidas has told Australian reporters that this breakthrough is especially interesting for treatments to restore human brain function. Think of, for example, treatment of autism and schizophrenia, but a wide range of neurological conditions could benefit from this success. While those types of studies are often forced to rely on animal experiments, this breakthrough could mean that scientists can simply grow brain samples of patients and test the effectiveness of medication on those samples first. “One hypothesis for schizophrenia and autism is maternal inflammation early in pregnancy, which starts the trajectory towards these problems later in life,” the professor said. “We can mimic that insult in the dish and see how it ­affects development. Soon we’ll be able to cut out the hippocampus, experiments that would otherwise be unethical in humans.”

However, those types of innovations are still some time away. The current brain tissue (smaller than a pea) made with this method starts to die off after about thirty days due to a lack of blood and oxygen, with the most immediate follow-up goal being to reach 100 days. This will require the team to develop new techniques for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells. “If you’ve got the right mic­robe environment, the mass starts forming a brain, which would probably be equivalent to a 20-30 day foetus,” the professor said. But as these cells are already forming networks and connections, scientists can already begin investigating the interactions between genes in the brain –which could cause some common disorders.

In short, its potential effects are manifold and, as the professor reminds reporters, opens the way for scientists to learn more about the most mysterious part of the human body. “It’s the 21st century and we still don’t know how the brain works,” he told them. This amazing ‘brain in a dish’ breakthrough is the result of an extensive collaboration of a team featuring engineers, neuroscientists, doctors and computer experts.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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