May 26, 2022


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3 Questions: Anna Jagielska on printing artificial axons | MIT News

Tens of tens of millions of folks throughout the world go through from neurodegenerative diseases this sort of as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, several sclerosis, and Lou Gehrig’s illness — but no helpful treatment options exist for these ailments.

Investigation Scientist Anna Jagielska of the MIT Division of Materials Science and Engineering thinks restoring the myelin wrapping all-around axons is important to preserving neurological functionality and slowing or halting neurodegeneration. Her crew, with guidance from the MIT Deshpande Centre for Technological Innovation, the U.S. Division of Protection, Sanofi-Genzyme, and other individuals, is establishing synthetic axons applying highly developed 3D printing, in the hopes of accelerating the discovery of medicines that stimulate myelin restore.

Q: What are the crucial obstacles to developing medicines to address neurodegenerative health conditions?

A: The latest lack of a predictive disease design and drug discovery resources success in extra than 90 % of neurological drug candidates failing in medical trials. Owning a predictive instrument would conserve pharmaceutical companies time and expenditures in what is a lengthy, multiyear system of drug improvement.

Our resources concentrate on myelin, and a lot of neurological diseases are involved in some methods with hurt or diseases of myelin, the protective sheath all around axons. Just about every neuron has just one extensive, skinny fiber termed an axon that transmits electrical impulses in the course of the nervous procedure so we can shift our limbs, see, and breathe. When the myelin coating all over axons is damaged, a method recognized as demyelination, nerve conduction slows or is lost and axons can die. This can effects motor and cognitive functions, and guide to loss of vision and long lasting disabilities. In lots of of these disorders, the body does not regenerate myelin sufficiently on its possess. Nevertheless, if a drug could encourage the system to produce new myelin sheaths, a method recognised as remyelination, this could protect axons from dying and maintain their neurological operate. We are producing synthetic axons that mimic an environment wherever myelin grows and wraps all around these axons as if they were in the mind. This resource would permit scientists to see how effectively distinct medication spur the progress of myelin.

Q: How can artificial axons be likely transformative for drug discovery?

A: Artificial axons fill an unmet will need, delivering the ideal tools to start off to deal with these neurological disorders. By giving a adequately accurate illustration of the neural environments for every single of these illnesses, we’re hoping to assistance build therapies that may perhaps ease them. Locating drugs that restore myelin would assistance slow the development of diseases like many sclerosis, which is marked by successive bouts of demyelination that lead to a progressive loss of anxious system functionality.

The early-stage growth of these types of medicines is where by this technological innovation can be most helpful. The synthetic axons mimic compliant brain cells and aid immediate quantification of myelination. The 3D-printed system balances the complexity of neurons’ biofidelic functions with the simplicity of engineered polymer arrays to enjoy and quantify oligodendrocytes, the myelinating cells of the mind, as they improve, experienced, and wrap myelin around the synthetic axons, in the exact same way they would do so in the mind.

Our system has quite a few strengths over recent tools. Classic flat-tissue society dishes produced of tricky, stiff plastic give the mistaken ecosystem for neural cells, perhaps altering cells’ responses to medicine as as opposed to how cells would answer in the physique. In addition, it is not attainable to analyze myelination in these flat dishes, mainly because this method demands the existence of 3-dimensional, axon-like constructions. The artificial axons, on the other hand, mimic actual axons’ small mechanical stiffness, which is 6 orders of magnitude significantly less rigid than plastic dishes, as nicely as axons’ geometrical attributes, down to orders of micrometers. The synthetic axons are also drug-agnostic, that means they let a variety of compounds to be examined on it. The system is remarkably tunable. Synthetic axons can be printed with unique shapes, diameters, densities, mechanical properties, and surface ligands to product certain disorders.

Our structure is compatible with pharmaceutical setups for drug screening. We have improved fabrication throughput to develop samples with high reproducibility in a quick period of time, a 96-properly plate inside minutes.

Q: How is the composition of your workforce especially suited to making these instruments for the drug discovery process?

A: Our group in the Van Vliet Laboratory for Materials Chemomechanics is diverse in expertise. We have people with experience in equally cell biology and supplies development. We also build resources to examine and characterize cells and their tissue natural environment, to understand how this surroundings drives mobile actions in wellbeing and ailment. We worked for years to understand axon geometry and stiffness modify in neurodegenerative conditions, and how this has an effect on myelin repair. This information of the interactions among neural cells and their ecosystem authorized us to build synthetic axons that mimic the vital characteristics of the brain natural environment that are essential for biology of neural cells and myelination.

To mimic axons, we designed a novel biocompatible, ultraviolet-curable hydrogel. This product enabled the development of pretty slender, freestanding fibers with particularly low stiffness, related to serious axons. To create a trustworthy fabrication engineering for our platform, graduate university student Daniela Espinosa-Hoyos PhD ’20 and I then teamed up with the team of Professor Nicholas Fang in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the experts in 3D printing. They designed specialised 3D printers based on a system named projection micro-stereolithography. Collectively, we made a process that can reproducibly produce these sophisticated micrometer-scale buildings. This perform designed on an previously collaboration with the group of Jennifer Lewis, a Harvard College professor, utilizing immediate inkjet printing of supported hydrogel fibers.