Scientists Use Stem Cells to Grow 3D Tissue Model of Brain

Researchers at Tufts University in Boston have found a new way to study abnormal cells — and potentially address critical diseases in the future

Scientists and researchers have long studied and cultured human brain tissue cells under laboratory conditions — but now comes a new initiative.

Using human neurons, researchers at Tufts University have grown a functioning neural network as part of a new study.

The 3D scaffold model they’ve created allows for a better understanding of the brain through research thanks to this breakthrough, according to a Fox News report and other sources.

The three-dimensional scaffold is significant because scientists can use certain cells from patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s — and study how those patients’ brains would respond to certain treatments.

“[This] gives us a reliable platform to study different disease conditions and the ability to observe what happens to the cells over the long term,” said William Cantley, author of the study, in a statement.

Related: How Stem Cells Might Help Us Fight Aging

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One of the reasons that diseases such as Alzheimer’s still aren’t cured exactly is the difficulty of researching the abnormal neural networks that are involved.

It’s not easy to obtain access to the brain cells of living people.

The 3D model provides a close to natural setting, critical to this kind of scientific research.

Related: Feel It in Your Bones: Regrowth Is Possible

David Kaplan, who also contributed to the new research, added, “We found the right conditions to get the iPSCs [a type of stem cell] to differentiate into a number of different neural subtypes, as well as astrocytes that support the growing neural networks.”

It appears as though the new 3D model is exceptionally sustainable when it comes to the growth and development of the neural networks.

There is reliable growth whether the cells are those of a diseased individual or a healthy individual, which can only lead to a higher quality of research.

Seemingly futuristic, the neurons — once generated — are grown on scaffolds comprising collagen gels and silk protein, among other substances.

The researchers will be better able to visualize each individual cell and its reaction to treatment.

Said the team that worked on this development: “This tissue model was tested with stem cells derived from healthy individuals as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients. We observed similar growth and gene expression, which indicates the feasibility of generating patient-derived brain tissue models.”

“These could be used to uncover early-stage biomarkers of the disease state, in turn supporting earlier diagnosis and improving understanding of disease progression. With additional model development, this approach would have potential use for investigating drug targets in neurodegenerative diseases.”

The research can be found in the journal of ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

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