New design technique could enable personalized medicine, studies of brain wiring.
Borrowing from microfabrication techniques used in the semiconductor industry, MIT and Harvard Medical School (HMS) engineers have developed a simple and inexpensive way to create three-dimensional brain tissues in a lab dish.
The new technique yields tissue constructs that closely mimic the cellular composition of those in the living brain, allowing scientists to study how neurons form connections and to predict how cells from individual patients might respond to different drugs. The work also paves the way for developing bioengineered implants to replace damaged tissue for organ systems, according to the researchers.
“We think that by bringing this kind of control and manipulation into neurobiology, we can investigate many different directions,” says Utkan Demirci, an assistant professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST).
Demirci and Ed Boyden, associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT’s Media Lab and McGovern Institute, are senior authors of a paper describing the new technique, which appears in the Nov. 27 online edition of the journal Advanced Materials. The paper’s lead author is Umut Gurkan, a postdoc at HST, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Although researchers have had some success growing artificial tissues such as liver or kidney, “the brain presents some unique challenges,” Boyden says. “One of the challenges is the incredible spatial heterogeneity. There are so many kinds of cells, and they have such intricate wiring.”
Brain tissue includes many types of neurons, including inhibitory and excitatory neurons, as well as supportive cells such as glial cells. All of these cells occur at specific ratios and in specific locations.
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