Bioprinted ‘cages’ and acoustic sound waves facilitate study of neurons

Written by Georgi Makin

Scientists from TU Wien (Vienna, Austria) and Stanford University (CA, USA) have bioprinted microscopic ‘cages’ to enhance the study of the growth of neurons.

A collaborative team comprised of scientists from TU Wien (Vienna, Austria) and Stanford University (CA, USA) has bioprinted microscopic ‘cages’ with acoustic sound waves to enable closer study of nerve cells.

The technique, described in Biofabrication, involves the 3D bioprinting of ‘buckyballs’ – microscopic geometric shapes made of pentagons and hexagons. The buckyball framework allowed the team to grow a large number of nerve cells in a small space and influence the cells’ behavior, as Aleksandr Ovsianikov, Head of the 3D-Printing and Biofabrication research group at the Institute for Materials Science and Materials Technology at TU Wien, explained:

If you present living cells with a certain framework, you can strongly influence their behavior. 3D printing enables the high-precision production of scaffolding structures, which can then be colonized with cells to study how living tissue grows and how it reacts.”

Wolfgang Steiger (TU Wien), added:

The openings of the buckyballs are large enough to allow cells to migrate into the cage, but when the cells coalesce, they can no longer leave the cage.”


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The team employed a two-photon polymerization technique coupled with an innovative 3D acoustic bioprinting technique developed at Stanford University. The technique has previously been used in multiple biomedical applications, including the sensing of cancer biomarkers and the fabrication of 3D tissue models.

We generate acoustic oscillations in the solution in which the cells are located. The cells follow the sounds waves like rats follow the Pied Piper of Hamelin as in the legend In the process, nodes of oscillation form at certain points — similar to a vibrating string,” explained Utkan Demicri (Stanford University).

The acoustic waves enabled us to fill the scaffold structures much more densely and efficiently than would have been possible with conventional methods of cell colonization,” Tanchen Ren (Stanford University) added.

After the nerve cells had been colonized, the team was able to observe connections between the neurons of neighboring buckyballs.

We see enormous potential here for using 3D printing to create and study neural networks in a targeted manner. In this way, important biological questions can be investigated to which one would otherwise have no direct experimental access,” Ovsianikov concluded.

Sources: Ren T, Steiger W, Chen P, Ovsianikov A, Demirci U. Enhancing cell packing in buckyballs by acoustofluidic activation. Biofabrication. 12(2) 025033 (2020), www.tuwien.at/tu-wien/aktuelles/news/news/wie-man-nervenzellen-in-kaefige-sperrt/