Researchers at the Michigan Technological University are currently developing a method that could be a significant breakthrough in regenerating nerve cells.
With their newly acquired 3D bioprinter developed and manufactured by the US company BioBots, the team led by Tolou Shokuhfar, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, is developing a “bioink” to eventuelly 3D print synthesised nerve tissue.
Cellulose nanocrystals with extremely good mechanical properties are are highly desirable for creating scaffolds used for live tissues. However, besides a biocompatible tissue to act as a carrier, nerve cells need electric pulses. This is where the wonder material graphene with excellent electrical conductivity properties comes in. Shokuhfar has been working on using graphene in biomaterials research and was also awarded a Career grant from NSF for her work.
The research team is now extending the application of the biocompatible graphene-bound polymer material for 3D bioprinting of nerve cells and wants to find out wether it is printable or not. Shokuhfar is confident and sees these issues as mechanical obstacles that can be overcome.
“We wanted to target a big issue,” Shokuhfar says, explaining that nerve regeneration is a particularly difficult biomedical engineering conundrum. “We are born with all the nerve cells we’ll ever have, and damaged nerves don’t heal very well.”
This new method could play a significant role in regenerating damaged nerve cells, especially for patients with spinal cord injuries. Additionally, the material might have use beyond nerve regeneration.