Researchers Develop Novel Chip-Based System to Learn Brain Functions

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Researchers from Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard developed a new Organ Chip system to recapitulate the interactions between the brain and its blood vessels.

The human brain contains over 100 billion neurons that control various functions. The blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygen and nutrients are highly selective about which molecules can cross from the blood into the brain and vice versa as the brain is highly sensitive organ that needs extra protection from toxins and other harmful substances. The blood -brain barrier (BBB) is comprised of these blood vessels and their unique network of supporting pericyte and astrocyte cells. The brain’s sensitive neurons become susceptible to harmful damage from disruption to the BBB when it is exposed to methamphetamine and other drugs. The research was published in Nature Biotechnology on August 20, 2018.

The BBB directly interacts with the brain to help regulate its function along with formation of a physical barrier in the brain. However, the mechanism of the cells of BBB in influencing brain functions is not yet understood both in vitro and vivo models. Now, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering developed a novel model of interactions between the BBB and brain with the aid of microfluidically-linked Organ Chips. These Organ chip reacts to methamphetamine and other drugs similarly to the human brain and facilitates unparalleled view of the brain’s vasculature influences along with regulation of metabolic function of the brain.

The BBB-Brain Chip system contains one “influx” BBB Chip, a Brain Chip, and a second “efflux” BBB Chip that are physically distinct from each other. However, all the three chips are connected with microfluidic channels that facilitate exchange of chemicals and other substances between the chips. This exchange is similar to the connection of supplying blood vessels, neuronal compartment, and draining blood vessels that are linked to each other in the brain.

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