A new research program may hold the key to unlocking the door to the brain. The Trans-Agency Blood-Brain Interface Program, developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), in collaboration with the Department of Defense Joint Program Committee, will help fund work to create small bioengineered models of the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
Critical in defending the brain from blood pathogens and toxins, the BBB can also keep out drugs that help treat brain disorders and disease. The new program will fund multidisciplinary teams and utilize the latest BBB tissue chip technology, like the technological model system developed by Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Professor Christopher Hughes. Professor Hughes is also a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and has developed a micro-organ system, complete with blood vessels, that fits within industry-standard cell culture platforms. By adding neurons, he can model the brain-BBB interface using his tissue chip technology. Professor Hughes has partnered with Neurobiology and Behavior Professor Leslie Thompson to add genetically modified neurons to his system to study BBB function in Huntington’s disease.
“We’re going to start off with normal brain cells and see how they interact with the blood-brain barrier, and later we’ll add brain cells containing the Huntington’s genetic defect to see what malfunctions might occur in the barrier cells,” Professor Hughes said. “We’ll also look at how these barrier cells communicate or ‘crosstalk’ with each other, which is critical to the structure and function of the BBB. And, most importantly, we’ll also be looking at the role of blood in this process.”
Ultimately, their research could prompt better understanding of the mechanisms that drive the progression of Huntington’s disease.