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MESO-BRAIN Uses Stem Cells & Nanoscale 3D Printing to Investigate Neural Networks

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The MESO-BRAIN consortium is a collaborative research effort, led by the UK’s Aston University and funded by FET and the European Commission, that’s focused on developing 3D human neural networks that can imitate brain-like activity—essentially emulating the human neural network. The ultimate goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of human disease progression and neural growth in order to determine how to treat a variety of debilitating conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and trauma, so it’s a pretty big thing to tackle. In order to emulate real brain activity, the consortium plans to use nanoscale 3D printing and 3D printed stem cells.

As Medline Plus explains it, stem cells are basically a repair system for our bodies, as they are unspecialized, which means they have no specific function within the body. Because these unique cells basically go wherever they’re most needed, they have the potential to actually develop into different types of cells, such as blood cells, brain cells, and muscle cells. Additionally, they can both renew and divide themselves over a long period of time, which makes them even more versatile.

Image courtesy of BiologyWise.com

The MESO-BRAIN project is using human-induced pluripotent stem cells in order to fabricate complex shapes that will hopefully make it possible to have more precise interactions with neurons, in an effort to help with the treatment and understand of neural diseases. These cells will be placed onto 3D laser-printed structures to replicate the brain’s neural networks, which will make it easier to monitor the activity of elements using electrical stimulation…a challenge when growing artificial stem cells in a flat petri dish, as they can’t properly imitate in vivo 3D interactions or developmental cues in real living organisms.

“MESO-BRAIN aims at developing functional, three-dimensional human stem cell-derived neuronal networks of defined and reproducible architecture, based on a brain cortical module that displays in vivo connectivity and activity. Thus, the development of such a technological platform will be foundational for a new era of biological and medical research based on human neural networks,” the FETFX project page for MESO-BRAIN states.

Hopefully, the results of this project will allow for improved development of large-scale cell-based assays, which are analytic procedures for quantitatively measuring or qualitatively assessing the amount, presence, or functional activity of the target, whether it’s a biochemical substance, chemical element, drug, or cell in an organism or organic sample. With better testing, it will be easier for researchers to investigate the effects of various toxicological and pharmacological compounds on a person’s brain activity and determine the best course of treatment for the previously mentioned neural conditions, as well as gaining a better understanding of them. In addition, if the project researchers are successful, this could pave the way to creating more physiologically accurate models, thus improving the efficiency of drug screening and negating the need for animal testing.

Image courtesy of FETFX Project

(Source: Science Times)

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