A method for repairing brain injuries using 3D printing has been developed by researchers and looks promising.


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October 4, 2023

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists from the University of Oxford have developed a revolutionary technique that could potentially revolutionize the treatment of brain injuries. By utilizing 3D-printing technology, these researchers have successfully created neural cells that closely mimic the architecture of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the human brain. This breakthrough has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

Brain injuries, whether caused by trauma, stroke, or brain tumor surgeries, often result in extensive damage to the cerebral cortex. This damage can lead to a range of cognitive, motor, and communication difficulties for patients. Shockingly, an estimated 70 million individuals worldwide suffer from traumatic brain injuries every year, with 5 million cases being severe or even fatal. Currently, there are no effective treatments for severe brain injuries, making this new breakthrough a potential game-changer in improving the quality of life for those affected.

Tissue regenerative therapies, particularly those involving the use of a patient’s own stem cells, have shown promise in treating brain injuries. However, until now, there has been no method to ensure that the implanted stem cells accurately mimic the brain’s architecture. In this groundbreaking study, the University of Oxford researchers successfully fabricated a two-layered brain tissue using 3D-printed human neural stem cells. When implanted into mouse brain slices, these cells seamlessly integrated with the host tissue both structurally and functionally.

Dr. Yongcheng Jin, the lead author of the study from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, expressed his excitement about the significance of this breakthrough. He stated, “This advance marks a significant step towards the fabrication of materials with the full structure and function of natural brain tissues. The work will provide a unique opportunity to explore the workings of the human cortex, and in the long term, it will offer hope to individuals who sustain brain injuries.”

The cortical structure created by the researchers was made from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), which have the potential to develop into various cell types found in the human body. An advantage of using hiPSCs for tissue repair is that they can be easily obtained from a patient’s own cells, minimizing the risk of an immune response. The researchers differentiated these hiPSCs into neural progenitor cells for two different layers of the cerebral cortex using specific combinations of growth factors and chemicals. These cells were then suspended in a solution to create two “bioinks,” which were 3D-printed to form a two-layered structure.

In culture, the printed tissues maintained their layered cellular architecture for several weeks, confirming their structural integrity. When implanted into mouse brain slices, the tissues showed incredible integration, with neural processes projecting and neurons migrating across the implant-host boundary. Additionally, the implanted cells displayed signaling activity that correlated with the host cells, demonstrating both functional and structural integration between human and mouse cells.

The researchers are now focused on further refining their droplet printing technique to create more complex multi-layered cerebral cortex tissues that more accurately mimic the architecture of the human brain. Apart from repairing brain injuries, these engineered tissues hold potential for drug evaluation, studying brain development, and advancing our understanding of cognition.

This recent breakthrough builds upon the University of Oxford team’s decade-long expertise in inventing and patenting 3D printing technologies for synthetic tissues and cultured cells. Dr. Linna Zhou, the senior author from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, explained, “Our droplet printing technique provides a means to engineer living 3D tissues with desired architectures, which brings us closer to the creation of personalized implantation treatments for brain injury.”

Associate Professor Francis Szele, another senior author from the Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics at the University of Oxford, highlighted the value of using living brain slices in studying the utility of 3D printing for brain repair. This approach acts as a bridge between studying 3D printed cortical column development in vitro and their integration into brains using animal models of injury.

In conclusion, the University of Oxford researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of brain injury treatment. Their 3D-printing technique for creating neural cells that mimic the architecture of the cerebral cortex shows great promise for personalized repair methods. As the researchers continue to refine their technique, we can hope for significant advancements in the treatment of brain injuries and a better understanding of the human brain as a whole.

The human brain is a remarkable organ, and its development is a intricate and delicate process. It would be foolish to assume that we can completely replicate this process in a laboratory setting. However, a recent project at Oxford University has made significant strides in harnessing the power of 3D printing to control the fate and arrangement of human iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) to form the basic functional units of the cerebral cortex.

The senior author of the study, Professor Hagan Bayley, acknowledges the interdisciplinary effort required to achieve this groundbreaking feat. Oxford’s Martin School, along with the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics, collaborated to bring this futuristic endeavor to life.

The researchers integrated 3D-printed cerebral cortical tissue into an ex vivo lesioned brain slice, a technique that has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of brain development and repair. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications and provides a promising path for further research in the field.

The implications of this research are immense. Imagine a future where we can precisely control the growth and organization of brain cells, offering new hope for those who have suffered from brain injuries or neurological disorders. The ability to recreate the cellular progression of the cerebral cortex in a laboratory setting opens up a world of possibilities for the field of neuroscience.

While there is still much work to be done, this project represents a significant step forward in our understanding of brain development and the potential for regenerative medicine. The highly multidisciplinary nature of this research, facilitated by the collaborative environment at Oxford, highlights the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration in pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge.

As we continue to delve into the complexities of the human brain, it is important to remember the delicate and intricate nature of its development. With each new discovery and advancement, we come closer to unraveling the mysteries of this remarkable organ and unlocking its potential for healing and regeneration.

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“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”


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