Home Research & Education UW-Madison researchers print functional human brain tissue in 3D for the first...

UW-Madison researchers print functional human brain tissue in 3D for the first time

A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed the first 3D-printed brain tissue that can grow and function like typical brain tissue.

This achievement opens up new perspectives for the study of the brain and the development of treatments for neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

In contrast to previous methods that used vertical layering, the research team uses a horizontal approach. They use a softer “bio-ink” and place neurons grown from induced pluripotent stem cells next to each other.

“This could be a hugely powerful model to help us understand how brain cells and parts of the brain communicate in humans,” says Su-Chun Zhang, professor of neuroscience and neurology at UW–Madison’s Waisman Center. “It could change the way we look at stem cell biology, neuroscience, and the pathogenesis of many neurological and psychiatric disorders.”

The printed cells form networks within and across the layers that resemble human brains. They communicate and interact through neurotransmitters.

“We printed the cerebral cortex and the striatum and what we found was quite striking,” Zhang says. “Even when we printed different cells belonging to different parts of the brain, they were still able to talk to each other in a very special and specific way.”

This precision makes it possible to study specific cell interactions, for example in Down’s syndrome or Alzheimer’s disease. The technology could also be used to test new drugs or to study brain growth.

“Our lab is very special in that we are able to produce pretty much any type of neurons at any time. Then we can piece them together at almost any time and in whatever way we like,” Zhang says. “Because we can print the tissue by design, we can have a defined system to look at how our human brain network operates. We can look very specifically at how the nerve cells talk to each other under certain conditions because we can print exactly what we want.”

“Right now, our printer is a benchtop commercialized one,” Yan says. “We can make some specialized improvements to help us print specific types of brain tissue on-demand.”

The 3D-printed brain tissue from the University of Wisconsin-Madison marks a significant advance in neurological research. By combining 3D printing technology and detailed cell culture methodology, it provides a new platform for studying the human brain. This approach could open the door to a deeper understanding of neurological diseases and accelerate the development of targeted treatments.

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