A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has achieved a biotechnology breakthrough by printing the first brain tissue that can grow and function similarly to natural brain tissue.
The experiment was carried out by a team of scientists led by Professor of Neurobiology and Neurology Su-Chun Zhang. A new method for 3D printing brain tissue, described in the journal Cell Stem Cell, differs from traditional approaches. Instead of vertically stacking layers, the scientists used a horizontal distribution of brain cells in a softer gel called a bioink. This technique creates tissue that retains enough structure to hold its shape, but is soft enough to allow neurons to grow and communicate with each other.
Professor Zhang notes that this technology provides a unique opportunity to study the interaction of cells and parts of the brain under controlled conditions. He says the tissue generated could be a powerful model for studying stem cell biology, neurobiology and the pathogenesis of neurological disorders.
“We printed the cerebral cortex and striatum, and what we saw was simply amazing,” these words of Su-Chun Zhang, a professor of neurobiology and neuroscience – one of the participants in the work – are quoted in a press release from the University of Wisconsin University of Madison (University of Wisconsin–Madison). The Lord God experienced similar feelings when creating the world: “And God saw that it was good.”
According to the professor, the optimal combination of strength, softness and thickness of the tissue made it possible to hold neurons, provide them with oxygen and nutrition, and not interfere with growing into each other and “starting to talk.”
“We “talked” to each other – exchanged specific signals – even printed cells that belonged to different parts of the brain,” the scientist does not hide his delight.
Connections are formed both within each layer and between layers. As a result, structures arise, just like in the human brain. Printed neurons begin to interact, as expected, through chemicals – neurotransmitters, which quite possibly indicates that some thoughts arise in the resulting brain network.
Scientists are not going to delve into them yet. Their goal is to examine in detail how nerve networks are formed, how signals appear and are transmitted in them, and to understand what exactly goes wrong with certain mental illnesses – for example, with Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
Professor Zhang emphasizes that their laboratory can produce virtually any type of neuron, giving scientists unique opportunities to create and study networks in the human brain. This method is also flexible and accessible to many laboratories, requiring no special equipment or culture techniques.
Despite the success, the researchers continue to refine the technology, aiming to improve the equipment and bioinks to more precisely control the cells within the brain tissue being created.
The authors of the work are ready to share their technology, which they described in the journal Cell Stem Cell. They say, together we will overcome illnesses faster.
However, In the not so distant future, there will also be a transplantation of printed brains into people, if necessary. To replenish, say, part of what was lost. Or worthless.