Studying the brain is, as one might imagine, a fairly complex task—and it’s not tremendously often that scientists get to study the brain in all its three-dimensional glory. Instead, neuroscientists often rely on in vitro brain cell or tissue samples from animals. But when it comes to understanding the complex nature of the brain and its 86 billion nerve cells, those flat lab samples have limitations. But breakthrough research from researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) in Australia has created a 3D-printed layered structure that incorporates neural cells to mimic the structure of brain tissue, and it could have major consequences in studying and treating conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.

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The limitations of cell and tissue samples are quite clear—drugs may be tested for their effects on animal samples, only for it to be found that those drugs have a notably different effect on the human brain. While the scientific community isn’t entirely sure why animal and human brains differ to the extent they do, the issue has created a need for what is termed “bench-top brain tissue,” to aid in research.

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In order to create this tissue, the team from ACES developed a custom bio-ink that contains immature cortical neurons (in this case from mice), which are encapsulated in naturally occurring carbohydrate materials—specifically a natural gellan gum polymer hydrogel. This polymer not only enables accurate cell dispersion throughout the structure, but also protects the cells.

The material was then optimized for bio-printing, and, using a handheld 3D-printer, a solid six-layered structure was created that accurately mimics brain tissue—all without the use of expensive bio-printing equipment.

As ACES Director and report author Professor Gordon Wallace explained in a statement: “We are still a long way from printing a brain but the ability to arrange cells so as they form neuronal networks is a significant step forward,” adding that the research “paves the way for the use of more sophisticated printers to create structures with much finer resolution.” And the more we can understand and examine the workings of the brain, the better we might be able to address certain disorders and degenerative illnesses.

Via The Guardian

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