Scientists Grew A 3D Model Of The Human Brain Using Stem Cells And Scaffolding
The news has been filled with headlines about neural networks recently, but all of those stories have had to do with artificial intelligence. Now scientists have created a functional, 3D model of a neural network out of actual human brain tissue.
The implications? Fascinating.
The model's creation began with human-induced pluripotent stem cells, which were cultivated into the right kinds of brain tissue. From there, the tissues were placed in a scaffold-like structure made of collagen and silk protein, where they began to grow and develop into functional neural networks. Researchers have accomplished similar feats in the past, such as growing a functional heart from stem cells or creating microscopic "mini-brains" with working blood vessels, but these new 3D brain tissue models have an added benefit.
According to researcher William Cantley: "The growth of neural networks is sustained and very consistent in the 3D tissue models, whether we use cells from healthy individuals or cells from patients with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. That gives us a reliable platform to study different disease conditions and the ability to observe what happens to the cells over the long term."
Understanding how brains grow, develop, degenerate, and deal with disease is a key hurdle for neuroscience and one that could open the door to new treatments. These 3D models may offer medical scientists and other researchers a controlled environment to experiment with different theories without having to rely on living patients already afflicted with a neurological disorder. Even more exciting, the study suggests that small amounts of brain tissue may be collected from patients and used to grow models of their brains, which could then be used to create more accurate early-stage diagnoses. In addition, these 3D models could be used to test new potential drug treatments without exposing patients to the risks.