We can grow brain tissue in a $5 microchip. (And it’s reusable.)

New Scientist reveals the cost of building a brain from scratch has just gone way, WAY down:

The device, dubbed a “microfluidic bioreactor”, is a 4-by-6-centimetre chip that includes small wells in which the brain organoids grow. Each is filled with nutrient-rich fluid that is pumped in and out automatically, like the fluids that flush through the human brain.

Using this system, Ikram Khan at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in Chennai and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have now reported the growth of a brain organoid over seven days. This demonstrates that the brain cells can thrive inside the chip, says Khan.

Culturing brain tissue in a laboratory would theoretically let scientists test how individual patients’ brains might react to different kinds of medications.

So Khan and his colleagues engineered a new, simpler device that combines a growing platform, tiny tubes, drug-injection channels and even a fluid-warming compartment all onto a single chip, which can be 3D-printed using the same kind of biocompatible resin used in dental surgery. The bioreactors control the flow of replenishing fluid and waste extraction through tubes in an enclosed incubator while providing full visibility.

To test their system, the researchers placed human brain-differentiated stem cells in the wells and programmed fluid flow through the chip. Using a microscope above the platform, they could watch the brain tissue develop for a full week – essentially until the organoids ran out of space in their tiny wells.

During that time, they saw that the cells multiplied and formed a ventricle-like structure, similar to the cavities seen in real brains, says Chloé Delépine at MIT. The ventricle was surrounded by tissue that appeared similar to that of the neocortex, a brain layer responsible for higher-order functions like thinking, reasoning and language comprehension.

You can read the research in Biomicrofluidics here.