Scientists use 3D-printed neural cells to repair brain injuries

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In a pioneering stride towards tailored brain injury repairs, University of Oxford researchers have successfully 3D-printed neural cells, demonstrating an ability to imitate the cerebral cortex’s architecture.

The findings, made available in the journal Nature Communications, provide a glimpse into future therapeutic avenues for those grappling with brain injuries resulting from trauma, stroke, or tumor surgery.

Aiming for Effective Brain Injury Treatment

With a staggering 70 million people worldwide encountering traumatic brain injuries (TBI) annually, and a substantial 5 million of these cases deemed severe or fatal, the search for efficacious treatments is paramount.

The cerebral cortex, the brain’s outer layer, is often significantly impacted in such injuries, resulting in cognitive, communicative, and movement impairments.

Current treatment options for severe brain injuries remain insufficient, thus necessitating innovative approaches to mitigate the devastating effects on affected individuals’ quality of life.

A Novel Approach to Tissue Regeneration

The Oxford team employed a novel technique to fabricate a two-layered brain tissue using 3D printing technology and human neural stem cells.

Upon implantation into mouse brain slices, these cells exhibited compelling structural and functional amalgamation with the host tissue.

Dr. Yongcheng Jin, a lead author of the study, articulated that this development constitutes a momentous progression towards crafting materials that bear the full structural and functional characteristics of natural brain tissues.

This endeavor provides a unique framework to probe the intricacies of the human cortex and, in the longer term, present hope for those sustaining brain injuries.

Utilizing Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (hiPSCs)

The research hinged on the use of hiPSCs, which boast the capacity to generate various human tissue cell types.

A paramount benefit of utilizing hiPSCs in tissue repair is their capability to be easily harvested from patients themselves, thereby bypassing potential immune response issues.

The hiPSCs were differentiated into neural progenitor cells, meant to populate two disparate cerebral cortex layers, through the deployment of specific growth factors and chemicals.

These cells were then suspended in solution, creating two “bioinks” which were 3D-printed into a two-layered structure.

In the culture, these tissues preserved their layered cellular architecture for several weeks, indicated by the expression of layer-specific biomarkers.

Insights and Future Directions

Upon implantation into mouse brain slices, the 3D-printed tissues demonstrated substantial integration, as evidenced by neural process projection and neuron migration across the implant-host boundary.

Signaling activity was also evident in the implanted cells, correlating with host cell activity, suggesting communication between human and mouse cells.

The researchers aim to further enhance the droplet printing technique to craft more complex, multi-layered cerebral cortex tissues, which can better emulate human brain architecture.

Beyond their potential role in brain injury repair, these engineered tissues could be instrumental in drug evaluation, cerebral development studies, and advancing understanding of cognition fundamentals.

The team, with a decade-long history in devising and patenting 3D printing technologies for synthetic tissues and cultured cells, views this advancement as a stepping stone towards creating personalized implantation treatments for brain injury.

In conclusion, this groundbreaking endeavor not only underlines the potential of 3D-printed neural cells in understanding and potentially treating brain injuries but also underscores the crucial role of multidisciplinary collaborations in propelling scientific innovations.

This pursuit of creating a bridge between in-vitro development and in-vivo integration of 3D-printed cortical columns through living brain slices marks a seminal advance in the realm of brain repair research.

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The research findings can be found in Nature Communications.

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