\"Brain on a chip\" tests how chemicals affect the human brain
Scientists and engineers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have developed what they are calling a “brain-on-a-chip” device aimed at testing and predicting the effects of biological and chemical agents, disease, or pharmaceutical drugs on the brain over time without the need for human or animal subjects.The device, part of the Lab’s iCHIP (in-vitro Chip-Based Human Investigational Platform) project, simulates the central nervous system by recording neural activity from multiple brain cell types deposited and grown onto microelectrode arrays. 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.
see in the human body.”
To recreate the regions of the brain, researchers divided the chip into four distinct areas — three sub-regions and an external region representing the brain’s cortex. 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.
Scientists said the platform is part of LLNL’s broader vision for countering emerging and existing threats, allows them to study the networks formed among various regions of the brain, and obtain timely, human-relevant data without animal or human testing. The data would be used to better predict human response to countermeasures, viruses or pharmaceutical drugs, and could help scientists determine if certain types of neurons are more susceptible to exposure.
“This allows us to come up with a platform that we can use to test how chemical agents would affect the brain,” says iCHIP principal investigator Elizabeth Wheeler. “Obviously at a high dose, we know exposure is going to be detrimental, but think about the warfighter who is exposed to a low level of chemical for a long time. Using this device in the future, we might be able to predict how that brain is going to be affected. If we understand how it’s affected, then we can develop a countermeasure to protect the