discoveries magazine

Gateway to the Brain

Scientists recreate a blood-brain barrier defect outside the body.

blood brain barrier, research, cedars-sinai, organ chips

Jeff Hichee

While building a brain capable of powering Frankenstein’s monster remains out of reach, Cedars-Sinai scientists have re-created a critical component—the blood-brain barrier. 

The blood-brain barrier acts as a gatekeeper by blocking toxins and other foreign substances in the bloodstream from entering brain tissue and damaging it. But it can also prevent potential therapeutic drugs for neurological and other disorders from reaching the brain.

The study, published in Cell Stem Cell, used induced pluripotent stem cells—which can produce any type of cell—to generate the neurons, blood-vessel linings and support cells that constitute the blood-brain barrier. The living cells were placed in Organ-Chips, which are about the size of AA batteries and replicate the body’s microenvironment. The cells soon coalesced into a functioning replica of the blood-brain barrier. 

Even more significantly, these cells also copied the neurological diseases of the patients from whom they were derived. This achievement provides a new way to make discoveries about brain disorders and, potentially, predict which drugs will work best for an individual patient.

The research combined innovative stem cell science from the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute with the advanced Organs-on-Chips technology of Emulate Inc. in Boston.

Disclosure: Cedars-Sinai owns a minority stock interest in Emulate Inc. An officer of Cedars-Sinai serves on Emulate’s board of directors. Emulate provided no financial support for this research. Six of the study’s authors are employees and shareholders of Emulate.