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Brain tissue model could improve research

Monday August 18, 2014
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A new 3D tissue model of the brain might make it easier to study brain injuries and other conditions without having to access the real thing.

The model, made of silk and collagen gel, according to a National Institutes of Health article, mimics basic brain function and could prove useful in developing new treatments for brain disorders.

“The brain remains one of the most important but least understood tissues in our body, in part because of its complexity as well as the limitations associated with in vivo studies,” the researchers wrote. “… This modular 3D brain-like tissue is capable of real-time nondestructive assessments, offering previously unidentified studies of brain homeostasis and injury.”

The model was developed at the Tissue Engineering Resource Center at Tufts University with research led by David Kaplan, chairman of the school’s bioengineering team. The research was published online August 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This work is an exceptional feat,” Rosemarie Hunziker, program director of Tissue Engineering at National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which funded the research, said in the report. “It combines a deep understanding of brain physiology with a large and growing suite of bioengineering tools to create an environment that is both necessary and sufficient to mimic brain function.”

With structural features similar to rat brain tissue, the new model can be kept alive for more than two months, according to the National Institutes of Health report. Tissue engineers recently have tried to grow neurons in 3D gel environments, but the neurons didn’t live long enough to yield robust, tissue-like function, the report stated.

The new brain-like tissue scientists created featured a unique structure of two biomaterials with different physical properties, including a spongy scaffold made of silk protein and collagen gel, the report stated. Scientists were able to create grey-white matter compartmentalization by cutting the spongy scaffold into a donut shape and filling it with rat neurons.

Researchers simulated a traumatic brain injury on the tissue by dropping a weight onto the model from different heights, according to the report. Changes were tracked in the neurons’ electrical and chemical activity. The results were similar to those with animal studies of brain trauma, the report said.

“With the system we have, you can essentially track the tissue response to traumatic brain injury in real time,” Kaplan said in the report. “Most importantly, you can also start to track repair and what happens over longer periods of time.”

For more information, visit http://www.nih.gov/news/health/aug2014/nibib-11.htm.


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