“Printing Brains in 3D: Researchers Create Living Nerve Networks”
Researchers at Monash University have made a groundbreaking achievement in neuroscience by using 3D bioprinting to create living nerve cell networks in a lab setting. The breakthrough opens up new avenues for studying brain function, diseases, and potential drug treatments.
Traditionally, scientists have grown nerve cells in flat, two-dimensional cultures. While this method has been useful for studying some aspects of neural development and diseases, it doesn’t fully capture the complexity of the human brain. The brain consists of intricate three-dimensional networks of neurons, and understanding how they form and function in this 3D context is crucial for advancing our knowledge of the brain.
To tackle this challenge, the Monash University researchers used a tissue engineering approach and developed specialized “bioinks” containing living nerve cells, also known as neurons. These bioinks allowed them to create 3D nerve networks that closely mimic the structure of the brain, with regions resembling grey matter and white matter.
Professor John Forsythe, who leads the research, explained that the 3D networks replicated the way neurons extend processes, called neurites, to establish connections between different layers of the brain’s cortex. This approach closely mimics the natural growth and interaction of neurons in a living brain.
One remarkable aspect of their work is that neurons in the “grey matter” layer readily extended their projections through the “white matter” layer, creating communication pathways between different layers, just as it happens in the human brain. This behavior demonstrated that the bioprinted neurons not only resembled the brain’s architecture but also functioned similarly.
To confirm the success of their approach, the researchers conducted sensitive electrophysiological measurements, revealing spontaneous nerve-like activity within the 3D neuronal networks. Moreover, these networks responded to electrical and drug stimulations, mirroring how real neurons behave in response to various signals.
The ability to detect electrical activity in these 3D neural networks marks a significant advancement in both neuroscience and bioprinting. It provides a promising platform for studying the formation and growth of nerves and neural networks, investigating the impact of diseases on neurotransmission, and screening the effects of drugs on the nervous system.
In essence, this groundbreaking research enables scientists to “print” living brain tissue in 3D, allowing for more accurate studies of brain function and neurological disorders. It’s a critical step toward unlocking the mysteries of the human brain and developing novel treatments for neurological conditions.