Finland, France and Harvard Bioprint Brains to Understand the 3D Structure


Researchers at Harvard University in collaboration with French and Finnish academic institutions have managed to 3D-bioprint a brain with the distinctive folds; An essential adaptation for our cognitive development.

Harvard University worked with the CNRS at Aix Marseille Université (France), Institut Mines-Telecom INSERM (France) and the University of Jyväskylä (Finland).

The team then published in Nature Physics what they discovered on the 3D structure of our brains; why the folds in mammalian brains form and do not allow this relatively soft organ to collapse.


Understanding the form of the brain could really help us understand diseases associated with malformations of this structure.

For example, the developmental disorder lissencephaly (smooth brain) means grooves fail to form in fetal development. This rare disease causes the child to fail to thrive, have seizures and struggle with motor control (particularly with breathing).

L. Mahadevan, who led the study, is also a core member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard. The Wyss is also working on organs-on-chips to mimic organs such as the brain in drug testing. The Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna (Austria) are also looking into this by growing ‘mini-brains’ from pluripotent cells.

Mahadevan explained that 3D-Printing could help us better understand embryological brain development ex vivo.

We found that we could mimic cortical folding using a very simple physical principle and get results similar to what we see in real foetal brains”

The international team, including neuroanatomists and radiologists in France, directly tested this theory using data from human fetuses. The team made a three-dimensional, gel model of a smooth fetal brain based on MRI images.


The model’s surface was coated with a thin layer of elastomer gel, as an analog of the cortex. To mimic cortical expansion, the gel brain was immersed in a solvent that is absorbed by the outer layer causing it to swell relative to the deeper regions. (Source: Tallenin et al (2016), Nature Physics, doi:10.1038/nphys3632)

Within minutes of being immersed in liquid solvent, the resulting compression led to the formation of folds similar in size and shape to real brains (see the gif below… ick).

The team was also surprised by the results, as Jun Yung Chun (a post-doc in the team) explained: if a part of the brain does not grow properly, or if the global geometry is disrupted (major folds not in the right place) this may cause dysfunction in the brain.

So in the World of Brains and BioPrinting, I wonder what Mahadevan’s lab will discover next..


(Credit: Mahadevan Lab/Harvard SEAS)

Feature Image Credit: The 3D Printed Brain structure (Credit:Mahadevan Lab/Harvard SEAS ) built on to Stock Graphic – © Arkela (BigStock ID96347633)
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