Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have created a 3D micro-scaffold that promoted the reprogramming of stem cells into neurons and supporting the growth of neuronal connections capable of transmitting electrical signals.
According to the researchers, with the platform it would be possible to transplant neurons, a viable treatment for a broad range of human neurodegenerative disorders, researchers said.
The transplantation into mouse brains of these networks of functioning human neural cells as compared to injecting individual cell led to dramatic improvement of their survival rates following transplantation into mouse brains.
Transplantation of neurons to treat neurodegenerative disorders had earlier had very limited success due to poor survival of neurons that were injected as a solution of individual cells.
The researchers which included some from Rutgers University and Stanford University in the US, experimented in creating scaffolds made from different types of polymer fibres, and of varying thickness and density.
They finally created a web of relatively thick fibre using a polymer that stem cells successfully adhered to.
Researchers used human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which could be readily generated from adult cell types such as skin cells.
A protein NeuroD1 was used to induce the iPSCs to differentiate into neural cells. The space between the polymer fibres played a critical role.
"The optimal pore size was one that was large enough for the cells to populate the scaffold but small enough that the differentiating neurons sensed the presence of their neighbours and produced outgrowths resulting in cell-to-cell contact," said Prabhas Moghe, a professor at Rutgers University.
The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the US National Institutes of Health had supported the new research.
"Working together, the stem cell biologists and biomaterials experts developed a system capable of shuttling neural cells through the demanding journey of transplantation and engraftment into host brain tissue," explained Rosemarie Hunziker, director of the NIBIB programme in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, IANS reported.