Hybrid nanotech device mimicking blood-brain barrier

Hybrid nanotech device mimicking blood-brain barrier
The devices is fundamental for studying new therapeutic strategies to overcome blood-brain barrier and treat brain conditions such as tumours.

Researchers at the IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia have fabricated an artificial device reproducing a 1:1 scale model of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the anatomical and functional structure that protects the central nervous system (CNS).

The device, which is a combination of artificial and biological components, is fundamental for studying new therapeutic strategies to overcome blood-brain barrier and treat brain conditions such as tumours.

The device is described in a paper published today in Small. It is a microfluidic device that combines artificial components made with 3D advanced microfabrication techniques (two-photon lithography) and endothelial cells.

The microprinting was realised with advanced 3D printing technologies that make use of a laser that scans through a liquid photopolymer and solidifies the material locally and layer-by-layer, building complex 3D objects with submicron resolution.

Using this technique, researchers were able to engineer an accurate, full-scale model of the blood-brain barrier made from photopolymer resin.

The device is few millimetres in size and fluids can pass through it at the same pressure as blood in brain vessels.

What is the Blood-brain barrier?

The BBB is a semipermeable membrane separating the blood from the cerebrospinal fluid; it constitutes a barrier to the passage of cells, particles, and large molecules.

It has several important functions:

  • Protects the brain from ‘foreign substances’ in the blood that may injure the brain;
  • Protects the brain from hormones and neurotransmitters in the rest of the body; and
  • Maintains a constant environment for the brain.

The prototype has been developed through an extremely multidisciplinary approach based on micro- nanofabrication competencies, modelling, and microfluidic dynamics.

In the future, researchers will use the device to understand the interaction of drugs or of drug delivery nano-vectors to overcome the blood-brain barrier and target the central nervous system. The main goal is to find new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of brain cancer and brain diseases, such as Alzheimer and multiple sclerosis (MS).

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