Scientists Create New “Brain-On-A-Chip”

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Scientists from Harvard University have provided an in-vitro brain-on-a-chip to model the brain’s connectivity.

This could go a long way in helping scientists examine different types of cells and the connectivity between different brain regions.

A group of researchers at Harvard University have created a “Brain On a Chip,” an artificial brain model, which could help scientists better understand the connectivity of the brain, and examine different types of brain cells.

The Brain

“The brain is so much more than individual neurons,” said Ben Maoz, a co-author of the paper, which is published in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

“It’s about the different types of cells and the connectivity between different regions of the brain. When modeling the brain, you need to be able to recapitulate that connectivity because there are many different diseases that attack those connections,” he added.

The Cost of the Technology

This technology, other than being a great tool for understanding the brain, also lessens costs of brain research.

“Roughly 26 percent of the U.S. healthcare budget is spent on neurological and psychiatric disorders,” said Kit Parker from Harvard SEAS. “Tools to support the development of therapeutics to alleviate the suffering of these patients is not only the human thing to do, it is the best means of reducing this cost.”

What Did They Find out Using The Technology?

The researchers modeled three regions of the brain that are primarily impacted by schizophrenia.

These areas include: the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Using the Brain on a Chip, they characterized each region in terms of cell composition, protein expression, metabolism and neural electrical activity.

“It’s no surprise that neurons in distinct regions of the brain are different, but it is surprising just how different they are,” said co-author Stephanie Dauth. “We found that the cell-type ratio, the metabolism, the protein expression, and the electrical activity all differ between regions in vitro. This shows that it does make a difference which brain region’s neurons you’re working with.”

They then analyzed how neurons in each region changed when in communication with other regions. They found that neurons dramatically change when in communication with neurons of other regions.

“When the cells are communicating with other regions, the cellular composition of the culture changes, the electrophysiology changes, all these inherent properties of the neurons change,” Maoz explained.

“This shows how important it is to implement different brain regions into in vitro models, especially when studying how neurological diseases impact connected regions of the brain.”