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3D bioprinting regenerates nerve cells

By Tim Sandle     May 14, 2015 in Science
In the latest technological leap with 3D printing, scientists are close to using a device to regenerate neurons. This is through the use of a tissue-printing machine.
Producing body parts through 3D printing remains in the realm of sci-fi. However, producing biological constructs is not and tissue — printing is technologically possible. 3D printing is the process of constructing a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved is an additive process; here successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. Initially used to make things out of plastics,
The new printer is called a Bio Bot and it has been developed at the Michigan Technological University. The device looks straightforward. It is box-like, consisting of a metal frame and the interior is illuminated with ultraviolet light.
The innocuous looking device could one day produce working nerve tissue. The key to this is with synthesising “bioink” or printable tissue. This nanotechnology could be used to regenerate damaged nerves for people suffering from spinal cord injuries.
The raw materials for the printer are cellulose nanocrystals (biocompatible polymers), composed of strong mechanical properties. These act as “scaffolds” for the 3D printer and getting this right requires a thorough understanding of fractal geometry. The starting material appears as a red, jelly-like fluid. The end result is a small, nano-scale structure that can let a single nerve pass through it.
The generated material not only needs to be structurally solid and sufficiently small, it also needs to allow nerve function to happen. Given that nerve pulses are electrical, the material needs to be a conductor. Here the researchers have looked towards graphene. Graphene is formed of pure carbon and it is one of the thinnest, lightest and strongest materials known to humankind.
In short, the long-term target through the 3D printing is to produce as biocompatible, graphene-bound polymer. The scientists are edging closer to this reality.
The printing device is being developed by Tolou Shokuhfar, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering. The development has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
In related news, a new method for constructing larger tissues from three-dimensional micro-tissues is being developed. Researchers hope that the process can one day building entire organs.
More about 3D printing, Tissues, Nerves, Neurons
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