[Pamies D, Hartung T, Hogberg HT. Biological and medical applications of a brain-on-a-chip. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2014 Jun 9. pii: 1535370214537738. [Epub ahead of print]]
The desire to develop and evaluate drugs as potential countermeasures for biological and chemical threats requires test systems that can also substitute for the clinical trials normally crucial for drug development. Current animal models have limited predictivity for drug efficacy in humans as the large majority of drugs fails in clinical trials. We have limited understanding of the function of the central nervous system and the complexity of the brain, especially during development and neuronal plasticity. Simple in vitro systems do not represent physiology and function of the brain. Moreover, the difficulty of studying interactions between human genetics and environmental factors leads to lack of knowledge about the events that induce neurological diseases. Microphysiological systems (MPS) promise to generate more complex in vitro human models that better simulate the organ’s biology and function. MPS combine different cell types in a specific three-dimensional (3D) configuration to simulate organs with a concrete function. The final aim of these MPS is to combine different “organoids” to generate a human-on-a-chip, an approach that would allow studies of complex physiological organ interactions. The recent discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) gives a range of possibilities allowing cellular studies of individuals with different genetic backgrounds (e.g., human disease models). Application of iPSCs from different donors in MPS gives the opportunity to better understand mechanisms of the disease and can be a novel tool in drug development, toxicology, and medicine. In order to generate a brain-on-a-chip, we have established a 3D model from human iPSCs based on our experience with a 3D rat primary aggregating brain model. After four weeks of differentiation, human 3D aggregates stain positive for different neuronal markers and show higher gene expression of various neuronal differentiation markers compared to 2D cultures. Here we present the applications and challenges of this emerging technology.