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Vol. LXVI, No. 18
August 29, 2014

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Bioengineers Create Functional 3D Brain-Like Tissue

Bioengineers have created three-dimensional brain-like tissue that functions like and has structural features similar to tissue in the rat brain and that can be kept alive in the lab for more than 2 months.

As a first demonstration of its potential, researchers used the brain-like tissue to study chemical and electrical changes that occur immediately following traumatic brain injury and, in a separate experiment, changes that occur in response to a drug. The tissue could provide a superior model for studying normal brain function as well as injury and disease and could assist in the development of new treatments for brain dysfunction.

The brain-like tissue was developed at the Tissue Engineering Resource Center at Tufts University, which is funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Study results were reported in the Aug. 11 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This work is an exceptional feat,” said Dr. Rosemarie Hunziker, program director of tissue engineering at NIBIB. “It combines a deep understanding of brain physiology with a large and growing suite of bioengineering tools to create an environment that is both necessary and sufficient to mimic brain function.”

The key to generating the brain-like tissue was creation of a novel composite structure that consisted of two biomaterials with different physical properties: a spongy scaffold made out of silk protein and a softer, collagen-based gel. The scaffold served as a structure onto which neurons could anchor themselves and the gel encouraged axons to grow through it.

“With the system we have, you can essentially track the tissue response to traumatic brain injury in real time,” said a Tufts scientist. “Most importantly, you can also start to track repair and what happens over longer periods of time.” Hunziker added, “Good models enable solid hypotheses that can be thoroughly tested. The hope is that use of this model could lead to an acceleration of therapies for brain dysfunction as well as offer a better way to study normal brain physiology.”

NIH, Italian Scientists Develop Nasal Test for Human Prion Disease

Nasal brushing procedure quickly diagnoses CJD.

Nasal brushing procedure quickly diagnoses CJD.

A nasal brush test can rapidly and accurately diagnose Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), an incurable and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disorder, according to a study by NIH scientists and their Italian colleagues.

Up to now, a definitive CJD diagnosis required testing brain tissue obtained after death or by biopsy in living patients. The study describing the less invasive nasal test appeared in the Aug. 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

CJD is a prion disease. These diseases originate when, for reasons not fully understood, normally harmless prion protein molecules become abnormal and gather in clusters. Prion diseases affect animals and people. Human prion diseases include variant, familial and sporadic CJD. The most common form, sporadic CJD, affects an estimated 1 in 1 million people annually worldwide. Other prion diseases include scrapie in sheep; chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose; and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, in cattle. Scientists have associated the accumulation of these clusters with tissue damage that leaves sponge-like holes in the brain.

“This exciting advance, the culmination of decades of studies on prion diseases, markedly improves on available diagnostic tests for CJD that are less reliable, more difficult for patients to tolerate and require more time to obtain results,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “With additional validation, this test has potential for use in clinical and agricultural settings.”

Year-Round Preventive Treatment Reduces Malaria Risk in Young Children

A year-round preventive drug treatment substantially reduces young children’s risk of contracting malaria and poses no serious risk of adverse events, according to a study by researchers funded by NIH.

The findings demonstrate that prolonged treatment given from 6 to 24 months of age is safe and effective for young children, according to the study authors. Year-round preventive measures are badly needed in locations like Uganda, where the study took place, and where malaria rates remain high throughout the year.

Most previous studies using drug treatment to prevent malaria have been limited to areas where there is only a seasonal risk of the disease, during the rainy season, when most malaria episodes in children occur. In those studies, preventive drug treatment was given for only a few months at most. The current study demonstrated that continuous preventive treatment can substantially reduce malaria transmission to infants, who are at greatest risk of severe malaria and death. The researchers published their findings online in PLOS Medicine.

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