A groundbreaking development at Oxford University has opened up the potential for rapidly customizing stem cells to treat brain injuries in humans using 3D printing.
In experimental trials, these implanted cells not only seamlessly integrated structurally but also functionally within the brains of test animals. This innovative research, published in the journal Nature Communications, represents a significant milestone, as it marks the first instance of 3D-printed neural cells replicating the architecture of the cerebral cortex.
This success is a culmination of a decade-long exploration into 3D printing cultured cells and synthetic tissues. It kindles hope that similar technology might eventually revolutionize brain injury treatment.
Annually, approximately 70 million people worldwide suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), with five million classified as severe or fatal, yet there is no established and reliable treatment available.
Nevertheless, cutting-edge tissue regenerative therapies, particularly those involving implants derived from patients’ own stem cells, offer a promising avenue for potential treatment.
In the most recent study, researchers employed 3D printing techniques to construct a two-layered brain tissue using human neural stem cells. When transplanted into mice, these cells exhibited remarkable structural and functional integration with the host tissue, defying species differences.
The cells underwent a process where they were immersed in a solution, generating two “bioinks.” These bioinks were then 3D-printed to form a two-layered structure that remained stable for weeks.
The study employed modern human pluripotent stem cells, generated by activating genes that reset skin tissue samples to a base state, which could then be reprogrammed into various tissue types.
Dr. Yongcheng Jin, a lead author of the study from the University of Oxford’s Department of Chemistry, expressed optimism about the implications of this work: “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.”
Notably, the implanted cells displayed signaling activity that mirrored that of host cells, indicating communication between human and mouse cells and demonstrating both functional and structural integration within the brain.
Senior author Dr. Linna Zhou emphasized the significance of their droplet printing technique in engineering living 3D tissues with specific architectures, bringing personalized implantation treatments for brain injuries closer to reality.
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While acknowledging that the technology is not yet fully mature, Professor Zoltán Molnár, another senior author, underscored the study’s potential for advancing brain injury treatment in the future. He also emphasized the complex nature of human brain development and the progress made in controlling the fates and arrangements of human stem cells to form the essential functional units of the cerebral cortex through 3D printing.