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Neurons, derived from human stem cells and shown in red and green, grow on a three-dimensional silk-collagen scaffold, shown in blue. Photo Credit: Selene Lomoio, Tesco Laboratory/Tufts University

In Phil’s role as a scientist, he heads an active research laboratory that studies neurological conditions, including epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. In April 2020 he and his Tufts University colleagues David Kaplan and Giuseppina Tesco received a $5 million grant from the National Institute of Aging to study the role of different cell types and mutations, to gain insights into the causes of this devastating disease.

In this collaborative study, teams from the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering have developed the ability to study human cells in a bioengineered three dimensional environment of silk rings, that resemble small donuts. This allows for the long term development of “mini-brains” that realistically simulate the human brain. As discussed in an article published in Tufts Now, “the Tufts team will use cells derived from patients with AD as well as healthy subjects, drawing on advanced stem cell technology that makes it possible to “reverse engineer” human primary cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, which can then differentiate into neurons, astrocytes, and microglia.”

Using this approach, the researchers will have the unique opportunity to gain fundamental insights into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and use this knowledge as a stepping stone to identifying new therapeutic strategies.

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