Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign hope to gain a better understanding of brain abnormalities by successfully using stem cells to engineer living biohybrid nerve tissue to create a 3D model of neural networks.

“Being able to form 3-dimensional tissue consisting of neurons gives us the ability to develop tissue models for drug screening or processing units for biological computers”, said researcher Gelson Pagan-Diaz.

The project was funded through an NSF Science and Technology Center EBICS (Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems) and was inspired by previous research in developing functioning muscles, where researchers developed bio bots that can walk when stimulated with electricity or light.

In this study, the team developed neural tissue mimics that can form different shapes, using hydrogels and fibrin to make millimeter to centimeter scale structures that can be molded into a number of desired shapes.

“Being able to fabricate these tissue mimics outside the body allows us to characterize and study their electrical activity in great detail,” said Pagan-Diaz. “The broad set of design rules due to the 3D structure and shapes provide a lot more experimental freedom and opens up new avenues of research in neuroscience, medicine, and engineering applications.”