Scientists have grown their own 3D brain tissue (that actually works)

Scientists have created lab-grown 3D tissue that resembles a human brain and can replicate some of its functions. Not only that, but they’ve kept it alive for over two months. (Which should probably strike me as a bit creepy, but I’ll be honest – after lunch some days, I could do with a few extra brain cells, fake or not.)

Bioengineers from Tufts University in Boston wanted to develop a way to more accurately study what happens in the brain following an illness, traumatic injury, or drug reaction.

Until now, scientists who want to study how different factors affect the brain have been limited to growing neurons in petri dishes. Although this can be useful, it doesn’t come close to simulating the complexity of brain tissue, which is comprised of two separate areas, grey matter and white matter. These areas communicate with each other but are affected very differently by injuries and illness.

A previous group of researchers managed to grow neurons in a gel, which meant they could function in more of a three-dimensional way, mimicking the way our brains make connections. But they didn’t stay alive for longer than 24 hours.

Now the team from Tufts has created something much more sophisticated. Made of silk protein and a collagen-based gel, it allows neurons to attach to it and axons (which receive messages from the neurons) to grow, producing a unique structure that better replicates the two halves of the brain and stays alive for a couple of months, meaning the effects of illness and injury can be studied over time.

Their next goal is to make it increasingly complex, building a larger model with different types of neurons. They also want to share their results with other people working in biomedical research, to speed up the creation of new treatment solutions.

Image credit: Tufts University.

Diane Shipley


  • Axons do not receive signals from other neurons; it is the dendrites that do that. The signal is received by the dendrite and goes to the cell body, from which it then propagates along the axon until it reaches the synapse and then the dendrite of the next neuron. More importantly, there are specialized cells (called glial cells) that tightly wrap themselves around axons and help speed the transmission of signals. It is the interference from these cells that make nerve damage so difficult to repair. Does the scientists’ mini-brain have these specialized cells? And could their “silk protein and a collagen-based gel” thingy possibly have an application in helping regrow severed cells in living organisms?

  • How far from commercial use is this work? I have an ex-wife I would like to notify that science has finally found a solution to her problem!

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