In recent years, neural stem cells have risen to the attention of biologists due to their lifelong regenerative abilities. This capability makes them a promising candidate for treating neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. However, much remains to be studied, particularly with their interaction with blood vessels in the brain, which are important for regulating fluid flow in the brain tissue.

Winkelman et al. presents a review of the neurovascular niche for bioengineers. While the field has long resided in the realm of biology, bioengineering is increasingly playing a role in understanding the interactions between vascular endothelial cells and neural stem cells.

“We wanted to bridge the field of neurovascular research between biology and bioengineering,” said author Guohao Dai. “I hope it can help bioengineers who want to go into this research be informed on how they can integrate their technology into furthering understanding of the biology.”

The paper covers the current understanding of neurovascular niche biology and identifies vascular factors governing neural stem cell behavior. It discusses in vitro studies looking at cellular interactions. To date, much of the current understanding of the neurovascular niche has come from animal studies. The authors point to the use of in vitro models with human cells to help better understand neurovascular interaction in humans.

“There’s a lot of bioengineering tools that can be brought to study these interactions,” Dai said. The authors hope the application of new bioengineering tools, such as hydrogel materials, 3D tissues and chips, and imaging techniques, can help propel understanding of the neurovascular niche in the future.

Source: “Bioengineering the neurovascular niche to study the interaction of neural stem cells and endothelial cells,” by Max A. Winkelman, Abigail N. Koppes, Ryan A. Koppes, and Guohao Dai, APL Bioengineering (2021). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0027211.