AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 3, 2018

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Scientists grow functioning human neural networks in 3D from stem cells

Neural models could improve understanding of neurodegenerative and other diseases, and facilitate discovery of treatments

A team of Tufts University-led researchers has developed three-dimensional (3D) human tissue culture models for the central nervous system that mimic structural and functional features of the brain and demonstrate neural activity sustained over a period of many months. With the ability to populate a 3D matrix of silk protein and collagen with cells from patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions, the tissue models allow for the exploration of cell interactions, disease progression and response to treatment. 

The new 3D brain tissue models overcome a key challenge of previous models –the availability of human source neurons. This is due to the fact that neurological tissues are rarely removed from healthy patients and are usually only available post-mortem from diseased patients. The 3D tissue models are instead populated with human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that can be derived from many sources, including patient skin. The iPSCs are generated by turning back the clock on cell development to their embryonic-like precursors. They can then be dialed forward again to any cell type, including neurons.

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