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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Zombie Popcorn

Published August 30, 2013 1:46 PM by Michael Jones

Induced Pluripotent Stem (IPS) Cells have been subject of breakthroughs all over the US and, now, all around the world. A recent press release detailed the work of researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ (OeAW) institute of molecular biotechnology (IMBA), led by Jürgen Knoblich, PhD, resulting in the development of “mini brains.” According to the release, the IMBA scientists used IPS cells to develop “cerebral organoids,” which could change our understanding of the human brain in laboratories around the world.

“We modified an established approach to generate so-called neuroectoderm, a cell layer from which the nervous system derives,” explained Knoblich in the press release. “Fragments of this tissue were then maintained in a 3D-culture and embedded in droplets of a specific gel that provided a scaffold for complex tissue growth. In order enhance the nutrient absorption, we later transferred the gel droplets to a spinning bioreactor. Within three or four weeks defined brain regions were formed.”

The briefing continued, explaining the development and the potential impact it stands to make on the healthcare industry. After two months of growth, the tiny brains had reached their largest size, but the release noted that they were capable of being sustained forever in a spinning bioreactor. It also noted that, “due to the lack of circulatory system,” the cerebral organoids did not have enough oxygen or nutrients to continued growing. The oldest one is currently 10 months.

“In addition to the potential for potential insights into the development of human brain disorders, mini brains will also be of great interest to the pharmaceutical and chemical industry,” said Madeline A. Lancaster, PhD. “They allow for the testing of therapies against brain defects and other neurological disorders. Furthermore, they will enable the analysis of the effects that specific chemicals have on brain development.”

The idea of studying the mini brain in regards to disorders was not only introduced, but tested in the case of microcephaly, “a human brain disorder in which brain size is significantly reduced. The release continued, “by growing IPS cells from skin tissue of microcephaly patient, the scientists were able to grow mini brains affected by this disorder.” The increase in research into IPS cells has marked several breakthroughs in recent history and has prompted a better understanding of human development. Are these the first steps towards a clinical application in regenerative medicine? 

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