3D printer
(Photo : Mushroom / Pexel)

The FET-funded MESO-BRAIN project intends to use 3D-printed stem cells to produce complex shapes that will allow more precise interaction with neurons, effectively revolutionizing neurosciences as we know it.

3D printing has become increasingly more complex and advanced in recent years. What began as a mere hobby for most has now been aiding researchers, doctors, and more in innovating more ways to increase the quality of life for many.

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing works by building successive layers of materials like plastics, metals, and ceramics and has the advantage of producing complex shoes and geometrics that would otherwise be impossible to construct with precision through conventional grinding, carving, or molding.

The technology holds the potential to revamp the healthcare sector. Doctors could use 3D printed products to perfectly match a patient's anatomy, radiologists could print exact replicas of a patient's spine before surgery, and more. Researchers at the MESO-BRAIN project led by Aston University aim to take things further and use 3D-printed stem cells to reinvent neuroscience.

The Need for Stem Cells Explained

3D printer
(Photo: Mushroom / Pexel)

According to Medline Plus, stem cells serve as a repair system for the human body. It has the potential to develop into different types of cells within the body. Stem cells are unique to other cells in the human body primarily because they can renew and divide themselves over a long period of time. They are unspecialized, meaning they have no designated function within the body. Simply put, stem cells go where they are needed.

On the other hand, these cells can become specialized like blood cells, muscle cells, and brain cells when needed. Researchers are excited about the cells because they could hold clues to different health and medical research such as explaining serious conditions like birth defects and cancer.

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3D Stem Cells in Neuroscience

Today, artificial stem cell growth is possible using a flat petri dish. However, this method presents a major confounding factor because it doesn't efficiently mimic in vivo 3D interactions or various developmental cues in real living organisms.

To address the limitations of modern neuronal culturing, the FET-funded MESO-BRAIN project led by Aston University proposes to construct 3D networks that are not only displayed in vivo neural cultures and allows precise interactions within the cultures. This process would allow the activity of elements to be easily and readily monitored via electrical stimulation.

The ability that researchers could develop human-induced stem cell-derived neural networks and reproducible 3D scaffolds could one day emulate brain activity which will allow comprehensive investigations of neural network development.

The MESO-BRAIN project focuses on better understanding human disease progression and neural growth to enable better development of large-scale cell-based assays and test modulatory effects of pharmacological and toxicological compounds on neural activity.

Ultimately, researchers hope that the technology would help in understanding and treating various neurological conditions like dementia, Parkinson's, and trauma. Additionally, More physiologically relevant models will further increase drug screening efficiency and finally reduce need of conducting animal testing.

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