Blood-brain barrier (BBB) replicated on a chip

BBB chip helps model neurodegeneration therapies as they pass through the brain’s defensive barrier.

There are numerous treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, yet one major obstacle to these therapies working as they should is the body’s efficient brain-blood barrier (BBB). You should be glad you’ve got one. This barrier acts as a guard, allowing ‘good’ fluid and nutrients to the brain, while defending it from any toxins or bacterial infections. Unfortunately, the barrier is so good at its job it also prevents the delivery of neurodegeneration therapies.

Longevity.Technology: Targeted therapies as they have fewer side-effects, are more efficient and lead to longer lives. ‘Organs-on-Chips’ (Organ Chips) are microchips lined by living human cells that could revolutionize drug development, disease modelling and personalised medicine microdevices.

The TRL score for this Longevity.Technology domain is currently set at: ‘Principles are demonstrated through experimentation.’


The TRL score for the technology addressed in this article is: “Early proof of concept demonstrated in the laboratory.’

A team of researchers at the Wyss Institute has developed a method to create a 3D-model of the blood-brain barrier on a chip to enable better simulations in the lab.
“It’s very difficult to get small molecule drugs and biologics into the brain due to the blood-brain barrier and until now there hasn’t been a good in vitro model for studying the multi-cellular interactions that govern the barrier’s permeability in humans,” said Dr Anna Herland, lead author on the study [1].

The BBB-chip is linked to a new organ-on-chip system that includes two blood-brain channels. The model was designed to develop an understanding of how drugs impact the brain and develop more effective therapies. In a clinical trial, the team cultured human cells in the linked brain chip and exposed them to Methamphetamine. Meth is a compound that disrupts the connection between the cells of the BBB in vivo and the researchers discovered the Meth compromised the connections between the cells, allowing molecules that would normally have been held at bay to cross the blood-brain barrier [2].

Crucially, results from the BBB-chip demonstrated that the molecules produced by the BBB sent vital cues to the brain’s neurons [3]. This breakthrough discovery of how cells communicate between the blood-brain barrier and how we can enable neurodegenerative therapies to be passed through will result in patients needing smaller doses for neurodegenerative treatments and more effective targeted therapies.

Although still in early trials, organs-on-chip such as the BBB can help identify issues in drug development and therapy; experiments verified that there is communication between the cells and brain neurons and this level of complexity and analysis hasn’t been seen before on any scale, much less a Nano-chip[4].

These brain chips are new way of conducting vital analysis that could help researchers learn new ways to help delay or even eliminate neurological diseases and other age-related diseases. With more organ chips being developed, research tools will build the foundation for discoveries that will extend lifespans; these include areas such as drug development and nanotechnology delivery systems.

Image: Melting Spot /
Salvinija Roznyte
Staff Writer Salvinija Roznyte is a writer and journalist based in London. She graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor's degree majoring in Writing and Journalism with a minor in Film Studies. She is interested in the way modern medical technology changes and shapes our world.

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