Head injury treatment hope as lab grows brain tissue for the first time
Brain tissue has been grown in a laboratory for the first time, in a breakthrough that could accelerate research into head injuries and dementia.
Described as an "exceptional feat", the tissue created by American scientists has white and grey matter that carry out the same chemical and electrical functions as a human brain.
Researchers will now be able to use the engineered brains to identify drugs that can combat conditions such as dementia or stroke, and to offer insights into how to fix areas damaged by head injury.
The 3D tissue can survive for up to two months in the laboratory.
"The hope is that use of this model could lead to an acceleration of therapies for brain dysfunction as well as offer a better way to study normal brain physiology," said Dr David Kaplan of Tufts University in Boston. "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."
Currently, scientists grow neurons in petri dishes to study their behaviour. Yet neurons are 2D and are unable to replicate the complex structural organisation of brain tissue, which consists of regions of grey and white matter.
The researchers found that by using a doughnut-shaped scaffold and gel to encourage growth they could make rat neurons form into complex brain tissue. The tissue has already been used to study the chemical and electrical changes that happen after brain trauma.
To mimic a traumatic brain injury, a weight was dropped on the tissue. The scientists found changes in the neurons' electrical and chemical activity were like those in brain-injured mammals.
"With the system we have, you can track the tissue response to traumatic brain injury in real time," added Dr Kaplan. "Most importantly, you can also start to track repair and what happens over longer periods of time."
The team has also refined the doughnut scaffold so that it consists of six concentric rings. These echo the six layers of the human brain cortex.
"This work is an exceptional feat," said Dr Rosemarie Hunziker, of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering in the US.
Dr Kaplan said the tissue was suitable for work on brain structure-function, drug screening, impact of electrodes and implants on brain function, disease and treatments, and nutrition.
Jessica Smith, the research communications officer of the Alzheimer's Society, was sceptical about its use for research into dementia. She said: "This new model uses healthy brain cells - we would need a different approach to understand complex conditions like Alzheimer's disease, which are the result of unhealthy cells caused by changes in the brain."
The study was published in 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'. (© Daily Telegraph, London)