Researchers at the Royal KTH Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, designed a blood-brain barrier on a chip using human-derived stem cells. The device closely mimics the blood-brain barrier and allows researchers to study its function and effect of drugs without having to use experimental animals. By incorporating sensors, the chip can control the barrier function in almost real time.
The blood-brain barrier is a layer of endothelium that coats the vessels of the brain and prevents the entry of several small molecules. This layer protects the brain from many substances in the blood that could otherwise cause damage or problems to this highly specialized organ. Medications designed to treat neurological problems in the brain must be able to cross the barrier. In addition, the barrier may be affected and compromised by various physiological processes, including inflammation, but it has been difficult to study these phenomena.
This latest technology provides welcome help to researchers hoping to unravel the mysteries of the blood-brain barrier. The research group behind the development has created a blood-brain barrier on a chip that uses human-derived stem cells to form the barrier.
“We have successfully based the barrier on cells derived from human stem cells, so this model is relevant to drugs being tested in humans, while other models are made with animal cells or are too simple to monitor closely, ”said Isabelle Matthiesen, the study’s researcher.
The device provides almost continuous monitoring of barrier integrity, allowing researchers to study processes that can affect the barrier in neurodegenerative diseases, such as inflammation. The current research group used the device to study the effect of inflammation on barrier integrity and the effect of anti-inflammatory drugs in this process. The device’s electronic sensors provide a reading of the integrity of the barrier approximately once a minute.
“As an example, when a drug is first administered, it produces a huge change in the cells and then the level is reduced,” said Thomas Winkler, another researcher involved in the study. “In typical drug testing methods, you wouldn’t see these rapid changes. We can now see that the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier occurs quickly under stress and we could see how it could be prevented with the antioxidant. “