The onset of many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and stroke, is directly related to the dysfunction of the neurovascular unit (NVU). For this reason, 3D models that closely mimic the complexity of the NVU are needed to investigate what goes wrong during pathogenesis. Tissue engineering offers a plethora of advanced techniques to achieve this goal. Among them, bioprinting seems the most promising, allowing the deposition of novel biomaterials and bioinks to recreate NVU-mimicking structures.
A recent review by researchers from The University of Manchester has highlighted the advantages and promising outcomes of using bioprinting in the study of neurodegenerative diseases.
Neurovascular unit components
The NVU is a brain-localized unit, composed of a vascular and a neural component. The correct cross-talk between these two components is fundamental for brain health, since it regulates transport of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, along with removal of toxic compounds, preventing neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.
The NVU extracellular matrix (ECM) represents the medium through which neural and vascular components can interact, providing physical support and biochemical cues to embedded cells. Indeed, the ECM can provide stimuli to promote growth of new neurons and blood vessels, as well as maintenance of brain health over time. For these reasons, disruption of the NVU has been linked to the onset and progression of severe neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s and stroke.