Scientists use 3D printed tissue to study cells

Scientist Guohao Dai, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the U.S, has won the Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation for his research into making replicated human tissues using 3D printing.

Unlike the cells in the body, most lab cultures are 2D, which makes them harder to study as they don’t exhibit the same characteristics as real human cells. But creating 3D cells is challenging because they need a regular flow of blood.

Along with his team, Dai developed the hardware and software for a 3D printer that builds biological tissue one fine layer at a time, forming blood vessels that can supply nutrients and oxygen to circulatory cells. This allowed them to see how these cells were affected by different factors and to better understand inflammatory diseases.

Now he plans to use his $440,000 (£257,666) grant to make it possible to analyse adult nervous system cells, which are especially challenging to study in a lab environment because they lose power so quickly when not attached to a blood supply.

Along with two stem cells experts from the university, Deanna Thompson and Sally Temple, he will create a steady environment or ‘vascular niche’ to prolong these cells’ lifespan, so their behaviour can be studied under various conditions. He hopes that this will aid understanding of nervous system damage like spinal cord injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, leading to more effective treatment options in future.

Image via Creative Tools’ Flickr.

Diane Shipley