Growing Transplantable Axons To Repair Brain Damage

Axons are critical for communication within the brain, and researchers have now developed artificial axons that can replace broken connections

The news comes from Penn State, where researchers have invented something called micro-tissue engineered neural networks” (micro-TENNs). These act as replacements for lost connections, and proved effective within rats, with minimal invasive implantation too. 

Credit: J P Harris et al./Journal of Neural Engineering

What are micro-TENNS?

These consist of cultured mature cortical neurons joined by axonal projections, which are then encased within a tube of agarose filled with extracellular matrix. This helps to preserve and protect the cells. 

The unique, thin agarose layer means that the structures can be insertion without the use of a needle. Agarose acts as a hard layer outside of the body, but softens within. It's a commonly used material in bioscience. 

“We hope this regenerative medicine strategy will someday enable us to grow individualized neural networks that are tailored for each patient’s specific need, [and] ultimately to replace lost neural circuits and improve brain function”

Repairing damage

Previous research has indicated that damaged neurons or axons may actually be repairable, and that the brain is far more plastic than we initially believed. This raises the hope that if connections can be restored, the brain may be able to repair and restore lost brain function. It's still early days, but the technique looks promising so far. 

Read more at Futurism