Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have successfully 3D-printed functional human brain tissue. This achievement holds significant implications for researchers studying the complexities of the brain and working on treatments for neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Led by Professor Su-Chun Zhang, the team utilized a unique horizontal printing approach rather than the traditional vertical stacking method. By positioning brain cells, specifically neurons grown from induced pluripotent stem cells, within a softer “bio-ink” gel, the researchers created an environment conducive to cell growth and communication.
The printed brain tissue demonstrated remarkable characteristics akin to typical brain tissue. The neurons formed connections within and across layers, establishing networks that closely resemble those found in the human brain. The cells were able to communicate, send signals, interact with each other through neurotransmitters, and even form networks with support cells integrated into the printed tissue.
This breakthrough printing technique offers unprecedented precision and control over the types and arrangement of cells, surpassing the capabilities of brain organoids commonly utilized in brain studies. The researchers can produce a wide range of neurons and seamlessly piece them together, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of how the human brain network operates.
The applications of this 3D-printed brain tissue are vast. It can be used to study signaling between cells in conditions like Down syndrome, interactions between healthy tissue and neighboring tissue affected by Alzheimer’s, and testing new drug candidates. Additionally, researchers can observe the growth of the brain itself, gaining insights into brain development and various neurological disorders.
Professor Zhang emphasized the importance of studying the brain as a network rather than focusing on individual components. This printing technique enables researchers to comprehend the intricate interactions between cells, providing a holistic understanding of brain functionality.
The accessibility of this groundbreaking technology is another notable aspect. Labs can utilize standard equipment such as microscopes, imaging techniques, and electrodes to study the 3D-printed brain tissue. The researchers aim to further improve their bio-ink and equipment to allow for specific orientations of cells within the printed tissue.
The implications of this achievement extend across a wide range of fields, including stem cell biology, neuroscience, and the pathogenesis of neurological and psychiatric disorders. The researchers believe that their 3D-printed brain tissue holds tremendous potential in advancing our understanding of brain development, neurodegenerative disorders, and developmental disabilities.