Scientists to build functional brain unit

A team of scientists from three UK universities been awarded a £3.5m grant by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to build a functional unit of the brain.

Approximately £2m of the grant was awarded to Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science. There, Prof Z F Cui will lead a team of researchers not only from Oxford but also from Cambridge and Aston universities.

The team will attempt to build the functional unit of the brain from human stem cells and grow stem-cell-derived neurons on a 3D scaffold. The biological neural network will then be used to study how the basic unit of the brain interacts, learns, memorises and functions.

Such neural structures might one day be used for regeneration therapy to treat neural degeneration diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Cui said: ’The project is unique and represents an excellent example of an engineer’s approach to understanding how the human brain – probably the most complex system in the universe – develops and performs at a fundamental level.’

The work will be carried out at the Oxford Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME), which is part of the Department of Engineering Science.