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12 Jan 2017 5 Comments

Growing mini-brains with stem cells

The optimistic research on growing minuscule of brain structures can rally around to several ground breaking answers in treating many brain related disorders......

Although the idea of growing mini-brain sounds weird like the Frankenstein’s creations, these are not fictional tissues but are tangible organelles that can help us find more answers to biochemical and developmental changes in the brain due to disorders such as epilepsy.

These mini-brains are lab grown bundle of cells which are three- dimensional structures of human stem cells stated by scientists as organoids.

Scientists claim these structures can assist in studying the development of brain and also enable us to understand several neurological disorders at ease. Scientists are currently experimenting on two-dimensional mini-brain models for their research. However, two- dimensional models do not replicate the complex nature of the human neural circuits which are essential for research.

A need for the three dimension models persist since they can structurally display perfect organizational similarities with the human brain. Thus, this new mission of growing three-dimensional mini-brain structures can offer a rare opportunity for scientist to study the functions of the real human brain.

These tissues can also offer scientists to develop further knowledge and understanding of the development and function of the nervous system. An insight on various neuropsychiatric diseases like autism can also be evident with these miniature models.

Directors at the Stanford Neurosciences Institute of stem cells quote, “Thus far one of the main issue in understanding the underlying problems in mental disorders was the inability to access the human brain directly. Thus, these spheroids of closely resembling organelles which are replicated in a three-dimensional structure duplicate the exact architecture of the brain along with its cortex, gene expression patterns that are found in a developing fetal brain.

These structures are grown by extracting skin cells from 5 different patients and these extracted cells are transformed into induced pluripotent stem cells, which are nothing but stem cells that are derived from adult sources. These cells are made to grow into any type of cell that is found in the human body.

Initially, a single layer and is one cell thick and then several such layers are placed together without sticking together causing the growth of three-dimensional brain model by aggregating the cells in the form of spherical colonies. These cocktail molecule thereby differentiate slowly into mature human brain cells.

Further these cells differentiate into neurons & astrocytes that are types of cells found in the brain. These brain cells intertwine with the neurons present forming synapses and provide the foundation for signal transmission and also stretch to offer metabolic support.

Thus, with all these intricate efforts a ball of cells , which is three-dimensional resembling the human cortex, that transmits real time signals is obtained. Functional test done of these structures reveal that 80% of the neurons in them fire signals on stimulation and 86% participate in network activity, thus mimicking spontaneous activity.

This current finding, though it is still in its nascent phase shows a promising future for therapeutic applications and these scientist vouch they can really help in unveiling several mysteries on brain disorders.





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