Brain organoids that display organized waves of electrical activity similar to those found in living human brains have been developed by specialists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The new mini-brains would allow neurological disorders to be analyzed in a model derived from stem cells.
While studying organoids grown from stem cells derived from patients with the neurological disorder known as Rett syndrome, the scientists were even able to observe patterns of electrical activity that resemble seizures, a hallmark of the disease.
According to a press release , this discovery increases the value of these human cell-based models for investigating underlying causes of disease and testing potential therapies . The new research was recently published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
CELLS WITHOUT LIMITS
Generally speaking, brain organoids or laboratory mini-brains are brain-like 3D structures that are grown from human stem cells. Advances in genetics have led to the possibility of using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which, in addition to having the potential to generate practically any other human cell, are capable of organizing in a three-dimensional way and forming structures similar to real organs.
The progress related to iPS cells has been based on various advances made in the last decade. How are they obtained? Basically, the researchers discovered how to take cells from a person’s body or from the biological substances it produces, such as skin cells or blood cells, and then genetically “transform” them in the laboratory.
Once the modification process is complete, these “normal” human cells become induced pluripotent stem cells. Subsequently, they can be directed to create any type of cell found in the body , including of course neurons, and from there develop complex organ-like structures.
MODEL THE STRUCTURE AND FUNCTIONS OF THE BRAIN
According to the scientists, this work shows that it is possible to create brain organoids or mini-brains that resemble real human brain tissue, which can be used to accurately replicate certain characteristics of brain functions and also those abnormalities that lead to disease.
However, brain organoids pose an extra challenge compared to creating laboratory models of other human organs. It is that the structural complexity of the brain is unique and even many of the phenomena involved have not even been fully understood.
In addition to getting cells to organize themselves as they would in a human brain, scientists must get neurons to connect with each other, form synapses, and function as they would in a real brain. It is essential to replicate the electrical activity and the dynamics of brain waves , which are associated with specific tasks such as learning, remembering or sleeping and that when they do not show logical patterns may be indicating the emergence of some pathology.
Precisely here is the main innovation of this study: having achieved that minbrains develop complex neural activity and electrical patterns that even resemble seizures. With these organoids it will be possible to model not only the structure of the brain but also its function , something vital if we consider that many neurological diseases do not manifest themselves at a structural level.
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