The brain is our most complex organ, and studying it isn’t exactly easy. You can’t just take a living brain and start running a battery of experiments. No one is going to sign up for the concussion test, or a mental illness test. Hmm, get knocked in the head for science? I’ll pass.
Lucky for us, science is stepping up to the plate today. 3D brain tissue that works has been developed in a laboratory setting. This is a huge leap forward for researchers. Researchers at Tufts University have created a three-dimensional model resembling a brain that can function for months.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This opens up the possibilities of testing differing treatments for traumatic brain injuries and mental illnesses. Scientists can throw the kitchen sink at problems until they find new therapies that work.
Lead researcher on the project, David Kaplan, released a statement on the news. “There are few good options for studying the physiology of the living brain, yet this is perhaps one of the biggest areas of unmet clinical need when you consider the need for new options to understand and treat a wide range of neurological disorders associated with the brain. To generate this system that has such great value is very exciting for our team.”
The 3D brain was able to pass electrical signals similar to that of a rat’s brain. Placing a weight on the tissue could also simulate a traumatic brain injury. Based off the tests, researchers are confident they will be able to use the model to help with future brain research.
So, how did they create the model? Using thousands of rat neurons that were developed in a lab. From there, the neurons were ‘seeded’ into spongy silk protein rings. These rings act as the scaffolding for brain cells. Brain cell axons were able to connect with each other through the help of a collagen-based gel.
Min Tang-Schomer, a researcher at Tufts talked about the viability of the 3D tissue. “The tissue maintained viability for at least nine weeks – significantly longer than cultures made of collagen or hydrogel alone – and also offered structural support for network connectivity that is crucial for brain activity.”
With concussions in the news as football approaches, it looks like scientists will have a big tool in their kit to come up with better therapies.