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Scientists have created a tiny 3-D scaffold that packs a big punch — it promotes stem cells’ transition into neurons, then lets those neurons grow and even transmit electrical signals. Researchers transplanted those scaffolds of lab-grown human neurons into mouse brains, where some stuck and started functioning as part of the brain. Here’s what lead researcher Prabhas Moghe of Rutgers said about the findings, published in Nature Communications.

What was your goal in creating the scaffolds?

The idea was to try to get the neurons to organize in a way that is spreading them out and stretching them out as much as possible, but stacking them as closely as possible so we could maximize the number of neurons that we can then transplant. We designed our materials to be very fibrous — think of them as fibrous mats. The neurons were grown in these mats, so they were allowed to attach to the fibers and spread their extensions out along them.

What did you see when you transplanted them into mice?

Traditionally, people have injected neurons into the brain without much support. So very few of them will survive and graft, or attach into the brain. But when we transplanted them into the brains of mice with these scaffolds, they survived in much larger numbers than if we were to put them in individually. This could be used for drug screening. Because you have human neurons that have survived in mice, you can test drugs like ones for Parkinson’s disease in them.