New Study Shows They Can 3D-Print Stem Cells To Implant As Functional Brain Tissue

University of Oxford

A groundbreaking development from Oxford University has opened up the possibility of rapidly tailoring stem cells for the future treatment of brain injuries in humans, utilizing a revolutionary approach of essentially 3D printing brain cells.

In a series of experiments, these printed cells seamlessly integrated into the brains of animals both structurally and functionally, presenting a remarkable stride in the field of regenerative medicine.

This pioneering study, published in the journal Nature Communications, represents a milestone as it marks the first instance where neural cells have bene 3D printed to replicate the intricate architecture of the cerebral cortex. The success of this study, part of a decade-long continuum of published research of 3D printing cultured cells and synthetic tissues, sparks optimism that similar technology could eventually be harnessed for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Annually, approximately 70 million people worldwide endure traumatic brain injuries, with a staggering five million classified as severe or fatal. Presently, there exists no effective or reliable treatment for these conditions. However, cutting-edge tissue regenerative therapies, particularly those incorporating implants derived from patients’ own stem cells, are emerging as promising avenues for treatment.

In this recent study, researchers employed advanced 3D printing techniques to construct a two-layered brain tissue using human neural stem cell. Implanting these cells into the brains of mice yielded encouraging results, showcasing convincing structural and functional integration with the host tissue, even across species differences.

The process involved dipping the cells in a solution to generate two ‘bioinks,’ which were then 3D printed to form a two-layered structure that remained stable for weeks.

The study utilized modern human pluripotent stem cells; a type generated by activating specific genes to reset the tissue of a skin sample to a base state. This base state can then be reprogrammed into various tissue types, showcasing the versatility of pluripotent stem cells in regenerative medicine.

Dr. Yongcheng Jin, a lead author of the study from the University of Oxford’s Department of Chemistry, said, “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.”

Remarkably, the implanted cells exhibited signaling activity mirroring that of the host cells. This indicated a sophisticated level of communication between the human and mouse cells, demonstrating not only structural integration but also functional integration within the complex environment of the brain.

“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,” senior author Dr. Linna Zhou, told Oxford press.

Although the technology is not yet fully mature, Professor Zoltán Molnár, a senior author of the study, expressed that the research holds significant promise for the future treatment of brain injuries.

Senior author of the study, Professor Zoltán Molnár, said, “Human brain development is a delicate and elaborate process with a complex choreography. It would be naïve to think that we can recreate the entire cellular progression in the laboratory.”

“Nonetheless, our 3D printing project demonstrates substantial progress in controlling the fates and arrangements of human [stem cells] to form the basic functional units of the cerebral cortex,” he adds.

This innovative approach of 3D printing neural cells to mimic the cerebral cortex’s architecture opens new avenues for personalized and effective regenerative therapies, offering hope to millions of individuals suffering from traumatic brain injuries globally.

As technology continues to advance, the potential for tailored stem cell treatments may revolutionize the landscape of neurodegenerative medicine.