The platform, described in the journal PLOS One, could help scientists understand how brain cells connect and interact, combat brain disorders, determine how soldiers are affected by exposure to chemical and biological weapons and develop antidotes to counteract those effects.
Researchers deposited primary hippocampal and cortical cells onto the electrodes, positioned based on their relative orientation in the brain, using custom-built inserts that can be removed after the cells are placed in the device to allow free communication among the different regions.
The team then monitored the cells’ action potential patterns – the “Bursts” of electrical energy that cells emit when communicating – and observed how the cells interacted over time.
The researchers also successfully performed tests with a four-cell insert, to prove more cell types could be used simultaneously. Researchers said the technology also is enabling them to see how cells communicate differently when combined with, or located close to, different cell types.
Depositing the cells with the micro-fabricated, funnel-like insert allows the insert to be used with any type of chip platform or cell type, because it doesn’t require patterning the chip’s surface with different chemicals to adhere the cells to it.
With the brain-on-a-chip platform, Kulp said researchers could analyze how disease spreads through the brain, model epilepsy, or potentially examine the effects of chemical or biological exposure over a timespan of several months.