Researchers at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, recently acquired a 3D bioprinter with which they plan to “print” synthesized nerve tissue. The key, they say, is developing the right “bioink” or printable tissue. One of the team member’s research on cellulose nanocrystals as biomaterials helped inspire the lab’s new 3D printing research.

“Cellulose nanocrystals with extremely good mechanical properties are highly desirable for bioprinting of scaffolds that can be used for live tissues,” says Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The nanotechnology-inspired material could help regenerate damaged nerves for patients with spinal cord injuries.

Other facilities use large, room-sized machines that have built-in cell culture hoods, incubators, and refrigeration. The precision of their equipment allows them to attempt to print full organs. But innovation is more nimble at smaller scale, maintain the researchers, who plan to remain focused on nerve regeneration.