3D bioprinting, the area of 3D printing technology dealing with the creation of biological tissues, has generated a huge amount of excitement throughout the medical community in recent years. Though there are numerous bioprinting projects underway at major universities, few have as much potential to revolutionize healthcare as a recent University of Wollongong study into the 3D printing of tissue similar to that of the human brain.
By applying a bio-ink containing adult stem cells onto a 3D-printed scaffolding and then allowing the stem cells to differentiate into nerve cells, researchers were able to create brain-like tissue in a laboratory. The research team hopes that its findings could someday lead to the ability to create new neural tissue for patients suffering from brain damage using their own stem cells.
The research team also hopes to apply this method for creating specific types of brain tissue that could be grafted into the human brain to combat certain diseases. Augmenting the brain’s supply of dopamine-producing neurons, for instance, could help patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
Before these new tissues see use in actual human transplants, however, more progress will need to be made. Consistently ensuring that all stem cells used in the process develop into neurons, as opposed to other types of tissues not normally found in the brain, is one of the more prominent challenges that the project faces. Another obstacle that presents itself broadly across bioprinting as a field is the need to create blood vessels to support the new tissue. Up to now, creating heterogeneous tissue structures, such as brain tissue with blood vessels to supply nutrients and dispose of waste, has proven extremely difficult.
With bioprinting making great strides each and every year, there is little doubt that 3D printing technology will one day be a powerful tool in medicine and healthcare. In order to prepare them for future careers that may rely heavily on 3D printing, students in schools today need to develop a basic understanding of and facility with 3D printers. Classroom 3D printers, like those sold by Me3D, are excellent for introducing students to the basic concepts behind 3D printing and helping them learn to use these revolutionary devices.