Synthetic brain tissue ‘could enhance study of conditions such as epilepsy’

A graphic of a brain (left profile). Ref: www.dreamstime.com

Scientists in the US have been able to create a brain-like tissue that could be used to further understanding of neurological conditions such as epilepsy.

A team from the Tissue Engineering Resource Center at Tufts University in Boston have developed a functional 3D tissue that exhibits grey-white matter compartmentalisation in the same manner as a rat brain, and can survive in the lab for more than two months.

It utilises a novel composite structure consisting of two biomaterials with different physical properties, the first being a spongy scaffold made out of silk protein and the latter a softer, collagen-based gel.

Currently, scientists studying brain structure grow neurons in petri dishes to study their behavior in a controllable environment. However, neurons grown in two dimensions in this manner cannot replicate the complex structural organisation of brain tissue, limiting their utility for research purposes.

To trial the new system, the researchers conducted experiments to determine the health and function of the neurons growing in their 3D brain-like tissue, comparing them with cells grown in a collagen gel-only environment or a 2D dish.

It was found that the new method led to creation of neurons with higher expression of genes involved in growth and function, maintaining stable metabolic activity for up to five weeks, compared to only 24 hours using the other technique.

The team also found that the tissue could be used to simulate and study chemical and electrical changes that occur immediately following traumatic brain injury or in response to a drug, making it a valuable new tool for the study of key brain functions and neurological diseases.

Dr David Kaplan, a professor of engineering at Tufts University, said: “With the system we have, you can essentially track the tissue response to traumatic brain injury in real time. Most importantly, you can also start to track repair and what happens over longer periods of time.”

“The fact that we can maintain this tissue for months in the lab means we can start to look at neurological diseases in ways that you can’t otherwise.”

Posted by Bob Jones