The brain is one of the most important organs of the body which oversees many bodily functions as well as allows a person to think and make crucial decisions. The human brain, however, also happens to be the least understood of all the organs because of its complexity and the challenges involved in studying structures of the brain in a living body.

It is apparently for this reason and the need to come up with better therapies for injuries and diseases which affect the brain, that researchers from Tufts University in Massachusetts developed a fake but realistic brain tissue in the laboratory.

In an experiment described in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Aug. 11, David Kaplan, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering of the Tufts University Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues came up with a functional three-dimensional model of the brain tissue that offers a new way to study the effects of head injury.

The researchers did not reconstruct the whole-brain network but instead created a modular design which exhibits the fundamental features that are most relevant to the tissue-level physiological functions of the organ.

The 3D tissue, which is made up of doughnut-shaped rings of silk protein and collagen-based gel, where thousands of laboratory grown rat neurons were seeded and which serves as a scaffold for the brain cells, could potentially pave way to a better understand the brain and neurophysiological processes that would otherwise be difficult to study when humans and animals are involved.

"This model provides a unique opportunity for mapping out real-time neurophysiological events and function studies in the laboratory, monitoring that is prohibitive with humans or animals," said study researcher Philip Haydon, from the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at the Tufts University School of Medicine.

Kaplan said that the development of the lab-grown brain tissue is just the first step as work is currently being done to develop the model, which could also be potentially used to study the functions and structure of the brain, assess the effects of implants and electrons on brain function, drug screening, analyze the effects of nutrition and toxins, understand how diseases form and even come up with treatments for brain-related diseases and injuries such as dementia.

"This modular 3D brain-like tissue is capable of real-time nondestructive assessments, offering previously unidentified directions for studies of brain homeostasis and injury," the researchers wrote.

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