A group of researchers has grown small, self-organising blobs of brain tissue in multi-welled dishes to observe in real time.
The team, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Technology, created a way to cheaply feed brain organoids – small bits of tissue that function in an organ-like way – and keep them alive for observation.
This has previously been made difficult by the cost of equipment and the need for constant maintenance and fluids to keep the organoids alive. In this case, a nutrient medium was delivered through small tubes connected to a tiny platform that contained the tissue, a technique called microfluidics.
Key research points
- New device for growing brain organoids
- Device is 3D printed and cheap
- Tiny tubes feed the organoid
- Tissue development can be viewed in vitro real-time
The devices worked for brain organoids developed from human cells and they were easily observed under a microscope throughout development. The self-organising organoid structure resembled a developing neocortex – part of the cerebral cortex involved in high order brain functions like sensory perception, cognition and language.
The devices were multi-welled – that is, they had multiple ‘cups’ to hold each organoid for study, like an egg carton holds eggs. They were also 3D printed, reusable, adjustable, and each cost less than AUD$7.
“Our design costs are significantly lower than traditional petri dish- or spin-bioreactor-based organoid culture products,” says lead author Ikram Khan, from MIT.
“In addition, the chip can be washed with distilled water, dried, and autoclaved and is, therefore, reusable.”
According to the paper, published in the journal Biomicrofluidics, the devices could help researchers gather information about small, previously difficult-to-observe processes that occur during brain development.
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Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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