Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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First Thoughts
27 December 2015

First Thoughts

Working out how our complex brains first developed is a real head-scratcher. Here researchers used a biological model – a simplified version of early processes in the brain that can be studied in the lab as they happen. They first prepared microscopic scaffolding out of silk (shown in white) that has a porous structure similar to the brain's white matter. Flooded with a supportive material called collagen, the silky scaffold provides a microenvironment for neurons (artificially stained green) to grow, cluster and connect together, much as they do in the nooks and crannies of the developing brain. This example of tissue engineering allows early developmental decisions to be watched, timed and compared: scientific measurements that are otherwise impossible or unethical to make in embryonic brains.

Written by John Ankers

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