When an expectant mother is exposed to a chemical or drug, she passes it onto her unborn child. There are increasing concerns that environmental chemicals play a role in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. But how can we tell which chemicals are toxic to the young developing brain? Scientists have recently designed a fast, cheap and accurate test. Taking human cells genetically modified to act like stem cells, they were able to create tissue that resembles the developing human brain (pictured). Various types of cells within this complex network are labelled here in different colours. The team then exposed the tissue to 60 chemicals and taught a computer to recognise which were safe and which were harmful. After training, the computer was able to predict toxicity of previously unseen chemicals with 90% accuracy. Quickly and accurately identifying chemical toxins brings us closer to making our environment safer for young developing brains.
Written by Gaëlle Coullon
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.