When it comes to treating disease and injury, the brain might be the most difficult organ in the entire body. Everything else in the body is controlled by the brain, so damage or malfunction within the brain can have a devastating effect on everything from motor skills to personality. But scientists at the University of Wollongong-based ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) are working on developing new treatments for brain injury and illness using 3D printing.

The treatment is based on the 3D printing of tissue from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are stem cells that have the capability of differentiating into any type of adult cell, including brain cells. The ACES researchers have come up with a way to 3D print iPSCs, using a custom-developed bioink. The iPSCs can be taken from any living person, and can be 3D printed in a way that incorporates properties of the natural cell environment.

“This flexible 3D tissue engineering technology enables iPSCs generated from an individual’s own body to divide after printing and differentiate in a way that will allow us to form and replace any tissue type of the body,” said Associate Professor Dr. Jeremy Crook. “By developing this further we will be able to generate healthy and diseased tissues for research, identifying better drugs for medicine and replacing or repairing damaged tissues or organs due to injury or disease.”

Dr. Jeremy Crook [Image: University of Wollongong]

That’s right – we’re yet another step closer to being able to 3D print human organs for transplant. Not necessarily entire brains, though, at least not just yet.

“That’s a whole different scale. The tissue we print is uniform, and not made up of different regions like a brain,” said Dr. Crook.

3D printed neurones [Image: Gu et al/Advanced Healthcare]

However, the researchers did 3D print neurones involved in the production of GABA and serotonin, deficiencies of which can cause diseases ranging from epilepsy to schizophrenia. They also 3D printed support cells called neuroglia. In the future, the team plans to 3D print brain cells that produce dopamine as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

“We might want to make a tissue that specifically generates that neurotransmitter for grafting into the brain of a Parkinson’s patient,” said Dr. Crook. “That’s absolutely achievable.”

The neurones were created by 3D printing (using an EnvisionTEC 3D-Bioplotter) a hatched pattern that formed a 5 mm cube, which was then crosslinked into a firm, jelly-like substance. Nutrients and growth factors were fed into the scaffold through small holes, which were also used to remove waste. The 3D printed cells then grew and formed into neurons and support cells, linking to form tissue. Scaling up the technology would have to involve the formation of blood vessels, according to Dr. Crook, but the tissue actually could be used for small transplants as it is right now.

3D printed scaffold created with stem cells [Image: Gu et al/Advanced Healthcare]

Regardless of the type of tissue the cells grow into, the fact that the tissue can be created from a patient’s own stem cells is a critical step in developing transplantable organs without the risk of rejection. The University of Wollongong has become well-known for its advanced work with 3D printing and stem cells, and the fact that its researchers have now 3D printed brain cells is extremely promising – not just for future transplants but for research. The technology could be used to 3D print tissue from the brain of someone with a mental illness or neurological disorder, so that scientists could study the difference between the way their neural networks form and the way a healthy brain’s neural networks form. The tissue could also be used to screen new drugs.

ACES has been working on this technology for a long time, and the research team has already started preclinical safety studies using the 3D printed tissue.

“There’s no doubt that sometime in the future engineering tissues by bioprinting iPSCs will be routinely performed for surgical treatments of patients with damaged or diseased tissue,” said Dr. Crook.

The research was published in a paper entitled “3D Bioprinting Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Constructs for In Situ Cell Proliferation and Successive Multilineage Differentiation,” which you can read here. Authors include Qi Gu, Eva Tomaskovic-Crook, Gordon G. Wallace and Jeremy M. Crook. Discuss in the University of Wollongong forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: University of Wollongong / ABC News]

 

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