Armed with a 3D printer and bio-ink made from stem cells, Australian scientists have created brain-like tissue in a breakthrough research. The unique bio-ink is composed of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) – possessing the same properties as embryonic stem cells – capable of transforming into any cell (and organ) in the body.

Lead researcher Jeremy Crook, from the University of Wollongong and ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, said the ability to customise brain tissue from a person’s own body tissue proved superior for transplantation. “That circumvents issues of immune rejection, which is common in organ transplantation,” he added.

Dr Crook explained the roles of neurotransmitters and their imbalance in the brain accounting for many neuropsychiatric disorders. For example, faulty serotonin and GABA-producing nerve cells are linked to schizophrenia and epilepsy, while faulty dopamine-producing cells are implicated in Parkinson’s disease.

As published in the Advanced Healthcare Material journal, the team used 3D printing to create neurones involved in producing GABA and serotonin in addition to neuroglia.

3D printing with bio-ink. Photo credit: Advanced Materials/University of Wollongong/ABC News

3D printing with bio-ink. Photo credit: Advanced Materials/University of Wollongong/ABC News

Plans to print neurones that produce dopamine are in the pipeline, says the team. “We might want to make a tissue that specifically generates that neurotransmitter for grafting into the brain of a Parkinson’s patient. That’s absolutely achievable,” affirmed Dr Crook.

Tissue engineer Makoto Nakamura from Toyama University in Japan said the study was “very impressive” – but relayed concerns regarding the risks involved with this technology. Due to its potential to develop into teratomas, he emphasised on ensuring all stem cells had turned into nerve cells in the final stage of transplanted material.