The blood-brain barrier -- the filter that governs what can and cannot come into contact with the mammalian brain -- is a marvel of nature. It effectively separates circulating blood from the fluid that bathes the brain, and it keeps out bacteria, viruses and other agents that could damage it.
However, the barrier can be disrupted by disease, stroke and multiple sclerosis, for example, and also is a big challenge for medicine, as it can be difficult or impossible to get therapeutic molecules through the barrier to treat neurological disorders.
Now researchers have transformed stem cells into endothelial cells with blood-brain barrier qualities in a laboratory dish in an attempt to get the blood-brain barrier to share its secrets.
“The nice thing about deriving endothelial cells from induced pluripotent stem cells is that you can make disease-specific models of brain tissue that incorporate the blood-brain barrier,” explains Sean Palecek, a UW-Madison professor of chemical and biological engineering. “The cells you create will carry the genetic information of the condition you want to study.”