An ongoing challenge for researchers has been a way to create bench top (suitable in size or configuration for study) brain tissue to study human brain function.  But now, researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) are one step closer – they’ve developed a 3-D printed layered structure that incorporates neural cells that actually mimics the structure of human brain tissue, according to Science Daily.

The value in this type of brain tissue for research is limitless.  Although scientists still aren’t sure why, the human brain and animal brain vary greatly.  Pharmaceutical companies have been known to spend millions in drug tests on animals that then don’t work or work differently when they get to human trials.   A bench-top brain that reacts like actual human brain tissue would benefit not only drug research, but research into brain disorders including schizophrenia and degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

To print the bench top brain, researchers created a six-layer structure with a custom bio-ink containing naturally occurring carbohydrate material.  According to ACES Director and research author Professor Gordon Wallace, these materials allow accurate cell dispersion throughout the structure while providing a level of protection to the cells so they stay in place, and are a “significant” step forward.  The printing results in a layered structure like brain tissue where cells remain in their designated layer.

The researchers acknowledge this type of advancement is possible because of the two advances working together – digital design as well as the scientific research.  One of the many advantages in utilizing digital design in this type of research is the ability to edit a digital file if errors are found in the prototype stage.

Professor Wallace has said “This study highlights the importance of integrating advances in 3-D printing, with those in materials science, to realize a biological outcome. This paves the way for the use of more sophisticated printers to create structures with much finer resolution.”