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Novel Organoid Culture System Used for Brain Cell Research

By BiotechDaily International staff writers
Posted on 24 Apr 2017
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Image: Human stem cells derived from skin samples have been induced to form tiny, three-dimensional, brain-like cultures that behave similarly to cells in the human midbrain (Photo courtesy of the University of Luxembourg).
Image: Human stem cells derived from skin samples have been induced to form tiny, three-dimensional, brain-like cultures that behave similarly to cells in the human midbrain (Photo courtesy of the University of Luxembourg).
Brain cells - derived from pluripotent stem cells - growing in culture assemble into three-dimensional (3D), brain-like structures (organoids) that can serve as an experimental model system for studies into the cellular biology of the normal and diseased brain.

Research on human brain development and neurological diseases has been limited by the lack of advanced experimental in vitro models that truly recapitulate the complexity of the human brain. In an effort to resolve this dilemma, investigators at the University of Luxembourg used a precisely defined cocktail of growth factors and a novel treatment method to drive pluripotent stem cells to develop into a robust human brain organoid system that was highly specific to the midbrain. These human midbrain organoids contained spatially organized groups of dopaminergic neurons, which made them an attractive model for the study of Parkinson’s disease.

The investigators characterized the neuronal, astroglial, and oligodendrocyte differentiation of the midbrain organoids in detail in the April 13, 2017, online edition of the journal Stem Cell Reports. In addition, they demonstrated the presence of synaptic connections and electrophysiological activity. The complexity of this model was further highlighted by the myelination of neurites.

"Our cell cultures open new doors to brain research," said senior author Dr. Jens Schwamborn, professor of developmental and cellular biology at the University of Luxembourg. "We can now use them to study the causes of Parkinson's disease and how it could possibly be effectively treated. Our subsequent examination of these artificial tissue samples revealed that various cell types characteristic of the midbrain had developed. The cells can transmit and process signals. We were even able to detect dopaminergic cells - just like in the midbrain."

"On our new cell cultures, we can study the mechanisms that lead to Parkinson's much better than was ever the case before, "said Dr. Schwamborn." We can test what effects environmental impacts such as pollutants have on the onset of the disease, whether there are new active agents that could possibly relieve the symptoms of Parkinson's, or whether the disease could even be cured from its very cause. We will be performing such investigations next."

The investigators have established a biotech company, Braingineering Technologies Sarl to explore the commercial potential of brain organoid cultures for research and drug development.


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