Eastman Dental Institute


Adapting tissue-engineered in vitro CNS models for high throughput study of neurodegeneration

20 March 2017

Caitriona O’Rourke, Charlotte Lee-Reeves, Rosemary AL Drake, Grant WW Cameron, A Jane Loughlin, James B Phillips

Journal of Tissue Engineering – Engineering biomimetic microenvironments to guide cell function.

The study describes how artificial nervous system tissue can be made into a model to study neurodegeneration. Tissue engineering technology was used to organise neurons and glial cells within purpose-built cell culture environments, resulting in aligned tracts of living artificial CNS tissue. Specific neurotoxins were then added to the cell cultures to simulate neurodegeneration. The technology was miniaturised to provide a model system suitable for commercial scale research and development and the ability of the system to be used in screening drugs for treating neurodegenerative diseases was tested.

The new model system allowed neurodegeneration to be triggered in a controlled and reproducible manner. The artificial tissue response mimicked characteristic changes in the brain that are associated with the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Neurodegeneration in response to different neurotoxins could be monitored and quantified accurately and the ability of the system to be used to identify neuroprotective effects of drugs was demonstrated.In addition, the inclusion of neurons derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells, and the miniaturisation of the technology, indicated the potential usefulness of this new approach as a tool for neurodegenerative disease research.

Further investigations will involve collaborating with others to allow the technology to be adopted more widely, as well as using it in our own research programmes to improve understanding and develop new treatments for nervous system damage and disease.

Read the full paper