Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

With mini-vessels, mini-brains expand research potential

02.02.2017

Scientists have recently made a wondrous variety of mini-brains -- 3-D cultures of neural cells that model basic properties of living brains -- but a new finding could add to the field's growing excitement in an entirely new "vein": Brown University's mini-brains now grow blood vessels, too.

The networks of capillaries within the little balls of nervous system cells could enable new kinds of large-scale lab investigations into diseases, such as stroke or concussion, where the interaction between the brain and its circulatory system is paramount, said Diane Hoffman-Kim, senior author of the study in The Journal of Neuroscience Methods. More fundamentally, vasculature makes mini-brains more realistic models of natural noggins.


Under the microscope, staining highlights a network of vasculature amid the ball of neurons that make up a minibrain.

Credit: Hoffman-Kim lab/Brown University

"This is exciting because real brains have vasculature," said Hoffman-Kim, an associate professor of medical science and of engineering at Brown. "We rely on it. For our neurons to do their thing, they have to be close to some blood vessels. If we are going to study lab models of the brain, we would love for them to have vasculature, too."

Making the most of mini-brains

Especially because scientists can make them by the hundreds, mini-brains hold promise not only for advancing medical and scientific research, but also for doing so with less need for animal models. Hoffman-Kim's lab first described its mini-brain method in 2015. While the engineered tissues appeared relatively simple compared to some others, they were also relatively easy and inexpensive to make.

But what had remained unnoticed at the time, even by the inventors, was that the little 8,000-cell spheres cultured from mouse cells were capable of growing an elementary circulatory system.

Only as members of the lab including lead author and Brown Graduate School alumna Molly Boutin continued to work with and study the mini-brains did they discover that after about day three of culture, about two-thirds of the mini-brains had grown networks of non-neural tissue. Closer inspection revealed that these tangles of spaghetti were self-assembled (i.e. they just grew) tubes made of the cells and proteins found in blood vessels.

The new study features a wide variety of imaging experiments in which staining and fluorescence techniques reveal those different cell types and proteins within the mini-brain spheres. The study also documents their integration with the neural tissues. Cross-sections under a transmission electron microscope, meanwhile, show that the capillaries are indeed hollow tubes that could transport blood.

Of course, there is no blood in a tiny mini-brain, Hoffman-Kim said. They exist in an agarose wellplate, not in a living animal. But she's currently working with a colleague at Brown to design a way to connect the mini-brains with a microfluidic apparatus that could produce an external source of circulation through a mini-brain.

"We've sketched on a few napkins together," she quipped.

The capillary networks are not as dense as they would be in a real brain, she acknowledged. The study also shows that they don't last longer than about a week or two.

New research

Aware of both their constraints and their potential, Hoffman-Kim's lab has already started experiments to take advantage of the presence of vasculature. Study second author Liana Kramer, a Brown senior, has begun looking at what happens to the vasculature and neural cells when mini-brains are deprived of oxygen or glucose. Later that same test bed could be used to examine the difference that different drugs or other treatments make.

Vasculature is particularly important not only because it delivers oxygen, glucose and medicine to brain cells, but also because research shows that in strokes, Alzheimer's disease and brain injury, the brain sometimes attempts to redesign its vasculature to compensate for what's happening to it. The mini-brains could allow researchers to observe such responses amid different lab-created conditions and treatments, Hoffman-Kim said.

"We can study a range of injury conditions, several drugs that are being tested and several conditions -- such as stroke and diabetes -- together," she said.

###

In addition to Boutin, who is now at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Hoffman-Kim and Kramer, the paper's other authors are Liane Livi, Tyler Brown and Christopher Moore.

Funding from the National Science Foundation, NIH, Brown University, Brown alumna Donna McGraw Weiss and Jason Weiss, and the Association of Migraine Disorders supported the research.

David Orenstein | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?
17.11.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care

nachricht Microbial resident enables beetles to feed on a leafy diet
17.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>