Australian researchers were eager to understand how neuron connections are formed in the human brain, led by Vini Gautam from the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience, they are now growing brain cells on computer chips. The team created an environment which allowed them to monitor and observe how the cells grow and connect.
The lack of order in the brain creates a major challenge for scientists trying to recreate neural circuitry. The neurons in the brain connect in a very ordered way- something that lab-grown efforts lack.
Fortunately, a scaffold made of indium phosphide made it possible for Gautam and her colleagues to impart some order to the process that’s normally chaotic. Indium phosphide is commonly used in high-power and high-frequency electronics, but Gautam believes this is the first time it has been used in conjunction with brain cells.
The researchers started with a square lattice. They then placed around 50 neuronal cells on each scaffold, placed them in a culturing solution, and hoped for the best. Shortly after a few days, outgrowths called neurites formed. In the brain, these structures connect with other neurons to form synapses. On the scaffold, the neurites had similarity reached out and connected the cells through synaptic connections.
Gautam spent a great deal of time while observing neuronal cells, she was immediately struck by the fact that the neurites had aligned themselves with the grid in straight lines- something previously unseen.
Although growing a brain on a chip is still farfetched, the fact that researchers were able to guide the neurite growth while allowing the cells to connect naturally will be a great tool for those studying the biology of the brain.