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Scientists are 3D-printing tiny human brains

Researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia are 3D-printing their own artificial human brains in the lab, in an ambitious project that sounds like something out of science fiction.Using a technique known as disease modelling, stem cells are being used to develop tissue constructs that accurately reflect brain tissue in laboratory conditions.

While animal models are conventionally used for research, researchers at the UOW-headquartered ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) are using the lab-built models in an effort to produce more relevant results.

ACES stem cell expert Associate Professor Jeremy Crook said the big challenge for researchers was increasing the level of control they have in fabricating the complicated tissue constructs.

“The brain is mind-bogglingly complex, undoubtedly the most complex thing known to mankind,” Professor Crook said.

“We are using additive fabrication technologies such as 3D bio-printing to carefully control our tissue constructs from the nano, through to micro and right up to macro dimensions, deliberately organising cells within the construct to closely mimic functional brain tissue.”

Professor Crook said that, in time, the tissue constructs may even be able to be used to control and restore the function of tissues or organs rendered dysfunctional by injury, disease or even normal ageing.

“We are at a very exciting time in stem cell and regenerative medicine research and technology development,” he said.

“With the opportunity and realisation that natural and synthetic biomaterials can be used to support and control cell and tissue engineering, I believe we can better model healthy and disease biology for understanding disease processes, drug development, and tissue replacement therapy.”

ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace said a workshop, held at UOW’s Innovation Campus on 25 November, explored exciting prospects that exist by combining stem cell research and biomaterials science.

“It is important that we embrace the wealth of knowledge that exists in this area in Australia and that we work together to get maximum returns for the communities for whom we work,” Professor Wallace said.