Stylized image of a brain's neural network

3D-Printing Living Neural Networks


In a groundbreaking leap, scientists at Monash University have successfully 3D-printed living neural networks using rat brain cells, showcasing remarkable signs of maturity and communication akin to real brains.

This achievement holds immense promise, potentially revolutionizing drug trials and fundamental brain studies by offering a viable alternative to animal testing.

With the recent push from the US Congress to reduce animal use in federally funded research and the approval of the FDA’s Modernization Act 2.0, the stage is set for high-tech alternatives in drug safety trials. While still in the proof-of-concept phase, this development brings us closer to a future where pharmaceuticals can be tested on 3D-printed mini-brains, potentially sparing countless animal lives.

3d-printing Neural Networks for a Purpose

Stylized image of a Neural network

The Monash team’s method strikes a balance by employing 3D printing to culture cells in specific patterns on recording electrodes.

This unique approach grants experimental control while maintaining the biological realism absent in flat cell cultures.

By utilizing “bioink,” a gel infused with rat brain cells,

the team created neural structures, simulating the alternating layers of gray and white matter found in actual brains.

However, challenges remain.

Ensuring the survival and functionality of printed neurons requires a gel that mimics the properties of a living brain,

a task that scientists have met with great determination.

While the current experiment used rat cells,

the ultimate goal is to replicate these results with human cells,

a significant step toward realizing the full potential of this technology.

Despite its immense potential, there are hurdles to overcome. Scaling up this delicate process from academic labs to industrial settings poses a considerable challenge.

Yet, with determination and innovation,

this technique could revolutionize drug development,

bringing us closer to a future where animal testing is a thing of the past.

Potential applications

While transitioning from traditional animal models to engineered tissue may take time, there is optimism that this shift will gradually occur. The potential applications extend beyond drug testing, as scientists ponder the possibilities of creating living artificial neural networks.

The fusion of 3D neural networks with AI might even lead to the emergence of “organoid intelligence,” a concept that could reshape the landscape of biological computing.


Looking ahead, the Monash team aims to stress-test their printed neural networks,

uncovering vital insights into the brain’s regenerative abilities after cellular damage.

This knowledge could pave the way for personalized treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and other brain injuries,

offering hope for patients seeking tailored therapeutic solutions.

In the grand scheme,

envisioning hospitals equipped with 3D-printing suites where tissues can be created from patient biopsies for drug testing is not a distant dream. This advancement sets the stage for personalized medicine to take centre stage.

As we inch closer to experiments without animals in the most complex organ known to us, we stand at the threshold of a new era in medical research and treatment. Perhaps, as some believe, the most complex structure in the entire universe

Source: Advanced Healthcare Materials

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