James Crowe

Institution: Aston University

Age: 25

1. What is your role in the MESO-BRAIN project?

My role within the MESO-BRAIN project is to develop and optimise protocols for the growth, imaging and interrogation of human iPSC-derived neural networks on the 3D biomaterial scaffolds that Professor Chichkov’s group produce in Hannover. I am implementing new technologies (e.g. Optogenetics, Multi-electrode arrays, and Genetically encoded calcium indicators) within the existing culture protocols to expand our research opportunities.

2. How has the project developed or changed your thinking?

I am already very excited by the prospects of 3D cell culture, as it allows us to improve the models of human tissues we wish to investigate. Previously I have experienced growing cortical spheroids, which are another 3D tissue model, however working on the MESO-BRAIN has highlighted just how variable the organoid-type models are and what flaws we have to overcome with 3D modelling.

In this aspect, the MESO-BRAIN fulfils a niche not yet offered by organoids or other 3D culture systems. We thoroughly considered this throughout our development process, to implement control over the system and allow us to understand the interaction.

Another key change is Astrocytes! Astrocytes are intimately involved with neuronal development, however – in many previous studies the role of astrocytes has been ignored and only very recent publications have highlighted their many roles in helping neurons to mature, including synaptogenesis and receptor turnover. This has made me consider how we can improve iPSC-derived culture systems so they better replicate the cell diversity seen within in vivo tissues.

3. What is still to come in the project that excites you?

I’m really excited for the first recording of our MESO-BRAIN culture in 3D. Amazing programs are being developed to allow us to reconstruct the neuronal network and look at how different regions interact – I think this will look spectacular and give us valuable data on how we might influence our developing network, and generate a controllable network.

4. What are your expectations of your career beyond MESO-BRAIN?

After the MESO-BRAIN project, I hope to take my learned experiences and new skillset, and continue to work in the field of iPSC-derived 3D brain models. This is a revolutionary field that is making us question our preconceptions of iPSC-derived cultures, and their valid application to investigating the causes of disease and disorder. One of my main aims in my career is to teach the next generation of aspiring scientists, as I feel the mentoring that I have received from my previous lecturers, my supervisors, and via the MESO-BRAIN project is a large part of why I wish to continue in scientific research. Hopefully I will get to teach people about cutting-edge research, like the MESO-BRAIN!