Stem cell biology, neurobiology and tissue engineering

Researchers from Centre for Neural Engineering are working to build ‘model brains’ that help us understand mental and central nervous system disorders. This technology  will improve diagnosis and assist with developing targeted treatment options.

The technology

Experts in stem cell biology, neurobiology and tissue engineering are working together to better understand and treat neurological diseases and disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Friedreich’s Ataxia. Such interdisciplinary neuroscience research involves building a model of the brain made from stem cells, which helps to give us a better understanding of the brain and its functions.

Professor Stan Skafidas, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, is the Director of the Centre for Neural Engineering (CfNE). CfNE is an interdisciplinary centre with several research laboratories involved in these studies. His team – which includes engineers, biologists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, neurologists and mathematicians – are revolutionising human biology and neuroscience.

The CfNE team create what are called ‘neurological scaffolds’, which is like building a brain in a dish, in order to study the brain and associated brain diseases and disorders. Using stem cell technology, these printable brains are made up of neural and pluripotent stem cells, created from adult cells. The cells are layered, creating a three dimensional model of the brain and the neurobiology of disease. In essence, the CfNE team creates a model of the patient’s brain. This helps understand how neurons work together and how they’re disrupted, which leads to pathological states, like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neurons are stimulated in these models to create certain reactions similar to the neurological disease or disorder in question. The reactions are catalogued and assessed for the way connections are made and how the neurons are firing in different conditions.

This technology can examine the cause of certain brain diseases and disorders and test the efficacy of drugs on these conditions. It will improve diagnosis and assist in the development of more targeted treatment options.