10 May 2012

Open University collaborates to develop 3D CNS tissue models

Scientists at The Open University are collaborating with TAP Biosystems to produce robust 3D human central nervous system (CNS) tissue models for use in drug discovery and pre-clinical testing. This approach could contribute to reducing the number of pre-clinical animal studies.

The collaboration will run for three years and focus on developing technology to generate and manufacture advanced 3D CNS tissue models. Using TAP’s RAFT (Real Architecture for 3D Tissue) technology, glial cells and neurons will be made into gel-based tissues. Cells are seeded in collagen gel in a rectangular mould and tethered at each end. The cells contract the collagen and become highly aligned, mimicking the cellular arrangement of living CNS tissue. These tissue models could be used to monitor the responses of glial cells and neurons to simulated damage, and could have applications as a tool for pre-clinical screening of novel therapies for neurological damage and disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr James Phillips, Lecturer in Health Sciences in the Faculty of Science at The Open University explained: “Astrocytes are CNS glial cells that normally support neuronal activity, but they change behaviour following damage and can inhibit regeneration. 2D cell cultures of astrocytes and neurons don’t behave in the same way as they do in a living organism and this can limit their range of uses.”

Dr Phillips continued: “We are using the RAFT process with astrocyte-seeded collagen gels. The cellular alignment created then allows the other types of cells in our 3D tissue model to organise themselves as they would in a natural environment. This means we can simulate the interaction between glial cells and regenerating neurons after CNS injury and monitor both cell types continuously. We can also carefully control variables, allowing us to test specific hypotheses, and we can look at the way each cell type responds, for example to specific drugs, in a very tightly controlled way without the additional complexity present in an animal model.

“We hope this collaboration will enable us to develop highly reproducible CNS tissue models, and make them available to academic groups and pharma companies for research and drug screening,” Dr Phillips concluded.

Dr Rosemary Drake, CSO at TAP Biosystems stated: “We are excited to have Dr Phillips’ group as partners to extend the application of the RAFT process. We will be working together to develop novel 3D human CNS tissue equivalents that closely mimic the cells’ in vivo environment, as well as reduce the cost and variability associated with current models, and could be a significant step change in current pre-clinical research. Such models could contribute to generating more accurate data from novel therapies, and may even result in a reduction of the numbers of animal studies necessary for screening potential neuroprotective therapies.”

Editor's Notes
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.7 million students and has more than 264,000 current students, including 18,000 overseas.

The OU has been one of the top three UK universities for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey every year since the survey began in 2005. In 2010/11 it had a 93 per cent satisfaction rating. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) the Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had more than 21 million visits, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded over 50 million downloads. The OU has a 41 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Frozen Planet, Bang Goes the Theory, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.

TAP Biosystems (the new corporate identity of The Automation Partnership) provides innovative cell culture systems, associated reagents and consumables to improve productivity in life science research, development and production.

For over 20 years TAP Biosystems has been the leader in the design and development of automated cell culture and processing systems with applications in bioprocessing, drug discovery and regenerative medicine. Systems include ambr, CompacT SelecT, Fill-It and RAFT.

TAP Biosystems is a privately-owned company with headquarters near Cambridge, UK and a sales and support facility near Wilmington, Delaware, USA.

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