UVic professors awarded provincial grant for brain tissue 3D print modelling

Tahmina Aziz/CHEK News

University of Victoria engineering professor Stephanie Willerth and assistant professor in chemistry Katherine Elvira have been awarded $175,000 from Innovate BC to 3D bio-print brain tissue models as a tool to screen potential drugs which could treat some neurological diseases and disorders.

“A lot of people are familiar with traditional 3D printing where you print plastics, 3D bio-printing, you’re printing cells and other materials to make tissue substitutes,” said Willerth, who’s also the Canada Research Chair in biomedical engineering.

The tool could lead to new and better treatments for conditions including Alzeimer’s and Parkinson’s disease by testing drugs on the model tissue to see how they react.

If the tissue responds positively, the team will recommend developing that drug for wider use.

“When we’re focusing on that type of diseases and anything we can shed light on in terms of ‘okay, this is a great drug to develop,’ it’s going to be really impactful,” said Elvira, who’s also a Canada Research Chair.

They said this form of research is an ethical alternative to animal testing and is more accurate because the tool replicates human tissue.

“If we can 3D print tissue from actual patient samples, then you get a lot more information [because] a) they’re human and b) they have your genetic makeup,” explained Elvira.

It’s not just brain diseases they can study — they can also look into the long-term impacts of COVID-19.

“So if you have some of this tissue model in a dish, then you can actually use them to study how COVID is actually affecting your neural tissue function and potentially leading ways to treat them,” said Willerth.

They said developing drugs is both expensive and time consuming, but 3D bio-printing allows them to cut the cost and time and potentially treat patients sooner.

They’re expanding the printing services to replicate other body parts, including heart tissue, to treat other non-neurological conditions.

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