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Scientists develop method to implant 3D-printed stem cells as a potential cure for brain injuries

Researchers at the Univerisity of Oxford have developed a method that could be the stepping stone to being a viable solution to brain injuries.

Scientists develop method to implant 3D-printed stem cells as a potential cure for brain injuries
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Edward Jenner

Brain injuries are very serious medical conditions. Sometimes, even mild concussions have long-term effects. Treatment for such injuries has always been costly and difficult, which leaves many affected individuals helpless. Fortunately, researchers at the Univerisity of Oxford have developed a method that could be the stepping stone to being a viable solution to brain injuries. The researchers found that the neural cells could be 3D printed to act like they would in a cerebral cortex. The team published their findings in the Nature Communications journal.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk

According to the Oxford Press, brain injuries that come about as a result of trauma, stroke, or surgery can cause large amounts of damage to the cerebral cortex. This can lead to the affected individuals suffering from issues in cognition, movement and communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a major cause of death. There were roughly 214,110 TBI-related hospital cases in 2020 and a shocking 69,473 TBI-related deaths in 2021.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Shvets
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Shvets

These numbers highlight the need for a viable treatment for TBI cases. Patients have been subjected to tissue regenerative therapies, sometimes involving patients being provided implants from their own stem cells. Even though this method seemed promising, there was no way to make sure that the implanted stem cells would behave like they would in a brain. The researchers identified the treatment's weak spot by 3D printing two-layered brain tissue with human neural stem cells. 

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Chokniti Khongchum
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Chokniti Khongchum

Upon putting it in with mouse brain slices, the stem cells displayed both structural and functional integration with the tissue of the host that could work in humans. Researchers identified that there was strong integration because of the projection of neural processes and the migrations of neurons across the implant-host boundary. Moreover, the new cells were found to have signaling activity similar to that of the host cells.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Chokniti Khongchum
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Chokniti Khongchum

Having found success so far, the team will now attempt to perfect their droplet printing technique to make complex multi-layered cerebral cortex tissues that would ideally imitate the human brain's architecture better. The research findings could also be used in the fields of drug evaluation, brain development and finally, to further our understanding of the basis of cognition.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mikhail Nilov
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mikhail Nilov

Senior author of the paper, Dr Linna Zhou, reflected on their groundbreaking achievement, saying, "Our droplet printing technique provides a means to engineer living 3D tissues with desired architectures, which brings us closer to the creation of personalized implantation treatments for brain injury." The team has had a long record of creating and patenting 3D printing technologies for synthetic tissues and cultured cells.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk

Professor Hagan Bayley spoke about the various departments involved in the study, saying, "This futuristic endeavor could only have been achieved by the highly multidisciplinary interactions encouraged by Oxford's Martin School, involving both Oxford's Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics."

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk

If the team continues its efforts and finds success, it will change the way modern medicine approaches brain-related injuries. It also provides hope to many who continue to suffer from TBI, hindering their daily lives. The team's findings are sure to revolutionize the way we understand cognition in our brains as well.

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