Chip simulates brain’s encephalic barrier for testing new drugs
Researchers from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBC), together with researchers from Chile, have developed a chip-like device that simulates the blood-brain barrier of the brain for use in testing and studying drugs against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Researchers at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBC) have developed a chip-like device that simulates the blood-brain barrier of the brain for use in testing and studying drugs against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The work, published in the scientific journal ‘Journal of Nanobiotechnology’, has been led by Mònica Mir and Anna Lagunas, both researchers in IBEC’s Nanobioengineering group led by Josep Samitier and members of the Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red (CIBER-BBN).
According to the researchers, the system makes it possible to study the functioning of this barrier in the presence of drugs and to screen the most effective ones, avoiding animal testing.
The blood-brain barrier protects the brain from possible toxins in the blood, supplies nutrients to brain tissues and filters harmful compounds from the brain back into the bloodstream, but, in addition to all these functions, it is also a physiological barrier that prevents drugs from reaching the brain, an obstacle to developing drugs against neurodegenerative diseases.
As Lagunas explained, most of the traditional cell culture methods used to study the behavior of drugs do not adequately reproduce the physiology of patients and animals often do not generate results comparable to the response in humans, apart from the ethical problems associated with animal experimentation.
Therefore, the so-called ‘organ-on-a-chip’ (OoC) platforms are an alternative to traditional study methods, as they allow the functioning of specific human organs to be simulated on a microscopic scale.
Thus, IBE has developed a chip that simulates the blood-brain barrier «that could be adapted to different studies involving the pathology of the human brain, such as many neurodegenerative diseases, in which the integrity of the blood-brain barrier is often compromised,» said Lagunas.
«Moreover,» he added, «if, for example, patient-derived cells were incorporated into the chip, it would allow a personalized study of the disease.
«The physical characteristics of the device make it portable, easy to use and it could be mass-produced with a future industrial implementation,» said Mònica Mir, who is also a professor of Electronic and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Barcelona (UB) and co-author of the study.
The device, whose development also involved researchers from the University of Barcelona, the University of Chile and the Centro Avanzado de Enfermedades Crónicas de Chile, is manufactured in a microfluidic system, which allows fluids to be manipulated and controlled on a very small scale and small volume samples to be analyzed.
It includes a three-dimensional culture of different types of cells of human origin that form an endothelial barrier structure, which has the function of separating blood from adjacent tissues.
This structure mimics the human blood-brain barrier and has more accurate permeability values than current standard models.
The model also incorporates a system of microelectrodes to monitor the integrity and permeability of the endothelial barrier before and after drug administration.
To validate the operation of the chip, the researchers have used a nanometric system for drug delivery previously developed by Marcelo J. Kogan’s group at the University of Chile.
It consists of gold nanoparticles that facilitate drug permeation through the blood-brain barrier and bind to the so-called beta-amyloid fibers, molecules formed in Alzheimer’s disease, disaggregating them. EFE
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