Scientists have grown human brain tissue in tiny 3D-printed chambers that appear to protect the developing tissue more fully than conventional culture dishes.
Self-organising brain tissue blobs, known as organoids, are derived from human stem cells and have proved enormously beneficial for scientists attempting to learn more about schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.
The tissue developed a cavity or ventricle surrounded by a structure that resembled a growing neocortex – the part of the human brain dedicated to conscious thought, language articulation, sensory perception and motor commands – in the course of a week, observed by teams of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras.
Organoids are typically grown in expensive commercial culture dishes complete with a glass-bottomed plate compatible only with specific microscopes.
The teams created a 3D-printed chamber from a biocompatible type of resin generally used in dental surgery that costs just $5 (£3.60) per unit to make, which was sterilised before the live cells were placed inside it.
Drugs and a nutrient medium to help the cells grow were added to wells inside the unit through inlet ports, according to the report, published in the journal Biomicrofluidics.
The percentage of cells in the core of the organoid inside the unit that died throughout the week of observation was smaller than under regular culture conditions, suggesting the cell design offers greater protection to the growing tissue.
The scientists believe this could be a result of constant perfusion (circulation of fluid) inside the culture chamber, which mimics natural tissue development more closely than growing it inside a conventional culture.
Ikram Khan, from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and the author of the report said: “One advantage offered by our microfluidic device is that it allows constant perfusion of the culture chamber, which more closely mimics a physiological tissue perfusion than conventional culture, and thus reduces cell death at the organoid core.
“Our design costs are significantly lower than traditional petri dish- or spin-bioreactor-based organoid culture products. In addition, the chip can be washed with distilled water, dried, and autoclaved and is, therefore, reusable.”
Future versions of the device could include a greater number of wells to accommodate new instruments, the teams said.