An artificial ‘brain on a plate’ is created that matures ‘like a human brain’ and could shed light on conditions like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia
- Organoids are simplified miniature versions of real organs grown in the lab.
- They are made from stem cells with the potential to form different types of cells.
- Brain organoids have already helped experts learn about autism and epilepsy
- However, it was thought that they would not develop beyond the fetal stage.
- This meant that the organoids were not suitable for studying adult diseases such as dementia.
- But experts have shown that they can mature and follow an internal clock like ours.
A ‘brain on a plate’ grown from stem cells in the laboratory can develop ‘like a human brain’ and can help shed light on conditions like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
Researchers from the US conducted extensive genetic analyzes of so-called ‘organoids’ that were allowed to grow in experimental dishes for up to 20 months.
They found that artificial brains appear to grow in phases according to an internal clock, one that matches actual child brain development.
The findings suggest that organoids may develop beyond the “fetal” stage, contrary to what was previously assumed.
Given this, brain organoids could mature to such an extent that scientists can use them to investigate adult-onset diseases such as dementia.
A brain organoid ‘(pictured) grown from stem cells in the lab can develop’ like a human brain ‘and can help shed light on conditions like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia
Researchers in the US conducted extensive genetic analyzes of so-called ‘organoids’ that were allowed to grow in experimental dishes for up to 20 months.
“Until now, no one has cultivated and characterized these organoids for so long,” said article author and neurologist Daniel Geschwind of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
“It has also not been shown that they will recapitulate human brain development in a laboratory setting for the most part.”
“This will be a major boost for the field. We have shown that these organoids can mature and reproduce many aspects of normal human development, which makes them a good model for studying human diseases on a plate, ”he said.
In their study, the team created their brain organoids using so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of giving rise to many different types of cells.
The stem cells themselves were derived from skin and blood cells that were reprogrammed back into an embryonic state.
When subjected to the right combination of chemicals in the right environment, stem cells become brain cells and self-organize to produce three-dimensional structures that faithfully reproduce certain aspects of real human brain development.
Researchers are interested in growing organoids from stem cells because they have the potential to revolutionize the ways we investigate how complex organs, such as the brain, develop and respond to disease.
In fact, scientists are already using organoids from the human brain to study neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia.
Until now, however, it was assumed that the cells that make up the organoids cannot develop beyond a state equivalent to those seen during fetal development, limiting the extent to which these models could be used.
The findings from this new study suggest that it might, in fact, be possible to grow organoid cells to such a maturity that researchers could also study diseases that appear during adulthood, such as dementia and schizophrenia.
“There is great interest in stem cell models of human disease,” said Dr. Geschwind.
“Until now, no one has cultivated and characterized these organoids for so long,” said article author and UCLA neurologist Daniel Geschwind. ‘It is also not shown that they will recapitulate the development of the human brain in a laboratory setting for the most part’ In the picture, an organoid
“This work represents an important milestone in showing which aspects of human brain development are modeled with the highest fidelity and which specific genes behave well in vitro and when it is best to model them.”
“Equally important, we provide a framework based on unbiased genomic analysis to assess how well in vitro models model development and function in vivo.”
“We show that these 3D brain organoids follow an internal clock, which progresses in a laboratory environment in parallel to what happens inside a living organism,” said paper author and biologist Aaron Gordon, also of UCLA.
“This is a remarkable finding: we show that they reach postnatal maturity around 280 days in culture, and after that they begin to model aspects of the infant brain, including known physiological changes in neurotransmitter signaling.”
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative disease of the brain, in which the accumulation of abnormal proteins causes the death of nerve cells.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the sixth leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons suffer from it.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.
That includes memory, orientation, and the ability to think and reason.
The progression of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some can live ten to 15 years.
- Short-term memory loss
- Changes in behavior
- Humor changes
- Difficulty dealing with money or making a phone call.
- Severe memory loss, forgetting close relatives, familiar objects or places
- Feeling anxious and frustrated with an inability to understand the world, leading to aggressive behavior.
- Eventually he loses the ability to walk.
- You may have trouble eating
- Most will eventually need 24-hour care.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association