Washington: In a first, bio-engineers have created a functional 3D brain-like tissue similar to the tissue in rat brain and which can be kept alive in the lab for more than a month.
The tissue could provide a superior model for studying normal brain function as well as injury and disease, and could assist in the development of new treatments for brain dysfunction.
The key to generating the brain-like tissue was the creation of a novel composite structure -- a spongy scaffold made out of silk protein and a softer collagen-based gel.
The scaffold served as a structure onto which neurons could anchor themselves, and the gel encouraged axons to grow through it.
Over a period of several weeks, researchers conducted experiments to determine the health and function of the neurons growing in their 3D brain-like tissue.
They compared them with neurons grown in a collagen gel-only environment or in a 2D dish.
"We found that the neurons in the 3D brain-like tissues had higher expression of genes involved in neuron growth and function," said David Kaplan, a professor of engineering at Tufts University, Boston.
In addition, the neurons grown in the 3D brain-like tissue maintained stable metabolic activity for up to five weeks.
However, the health of neurons grown in the gel-only environment began to deteriorate within 24 hours.
"In regard to function, neurons in the 3D brain-like tissue exhibited electrical activity and responsiveness that mimic signals seen in the intact brain," Kaplan added.
He emphasised the importance of the brain-like tissue's longevity for studying other brain disorders.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.