Precisely engineering 3-D brain tissues
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.
In the long term, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how to design tissue implants that could be used to replace damaged tissue in patients. Much research has been done in this area, but it has been difficult to figure out whether the new tissues are correctly wiring up with existing tissue and exchanging the right kinds of information.
Another long-term goal is using the tissues for personalized medicine. One day, doctors may be able to take cells from a patient with a neurological disorder and transform them into induced pluripotent stem cells, then induce these constructs to grow into neurons in a lab dish. By exposing these tissues to many possible drugs, "you might be able to figure out if a drug would benefit that person without having to spend years giving them lots of different drugs," Boyden says.
Provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology