MAY 28, 2018 7:17 AM PDT

How Lab-Grown Brains Advance Research

The human brain has a big job. It runs every system of the body, 24/7/365 and it does so better than any supercomputer on the planet. There is a great deal of research available on brain function, anatomy and all that can go wrong such as Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and mental illnesses. It’s problematic however to research the living brain.

Medical ethics would never allow some experiments, and so there is still much we don’t know. Towards that end, researchers at the Weizmann Institute are creating mini-brains in the lab. Mini-brains, also known as organoids, start with stem cells and are cultured and grown into tiny versions of the human brain. This way, research that manipulates the development of the brain can be conducted on the organoids.

One of the critical parts of brain anatomy is the folding of cortical tissue. This occurs in utero and is usually complete by age two. The brain folding, a process known as “gyrification,” is necessary because neurons must transmit signals across the brain at ridiculously high rates of speed and the folds allow this process to happen, putting neurons that work together near each other via the folding. The team at the Weizmann Institute is looking at this process to learn more about a condition called lissencephaly, where a baby is born with no brain folds. Children born with lissencephaly have severe developmental disorders. Finding out what causes it is difficult, but the team hopes their research with organoids can shed light on the mechanism.

It’s a much more difficult process than tossing some cells into a petri dish and hoping a brain grows, however. Organoids often don’t vascularize, molecules within the mini-brains are hard to image, and their development is often haphazard. The team at Weizmann, led by Dr. Orly Reiner and Dr. Eyal Karzbrun approached the problem by developing a process where the organoid grows in a single direction and has a flat inner space. This shaping allows for better imaging and can be tracked. Dr. Reiner’s previous research into lissencephaly resulted in identifying the gene responsible for the disorder. The process used at the Institute is so efficient that in about two weeks, the organoids begin to wrinkle just as normal brain tissue does.

Since Dr. Reiner’s earlier research proved that a mutation in the LIS1 gene was responsible for the lack of brain folding, they were able to hone in on the molecular mechanism of the process by creating organoids that had the mutated LIS1 gene. Looking at the mini-brains this way they found those with the gene mutation created tissue that did not fold and was softer and “squishy.” The organoids were not only genetically different but were different structurally as well because of the mutation. Using atomic microscopy along with the earlier research on which gene was involved resulted in the team learning how the brain develops these crucial folds. Dr. Reiner summarized the work stating, “It’s not exactly a brain, but it is quite a good model for brain development. We now have a much better understanding of what makes a brain wrinkled or, in cases of those with one mutated gene, smooth.” Take a look at the video to learn more about this new finding. The research should go a long way towards understanding not only lissencephaly but other disorders like schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Sources: Weizmann Institute, Nature Physics, Israeli Times

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
MAR 11, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAR 11, 2020
Recreational Cannabis Use May Curtail Brain Development in Under 25's
As cannabis is becoming more and more popular in the US and beyond, more and more attention is being directed to its lon ...
APR 03, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 03, 2020
Why Autism is More Common in Boys than Girls
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified how a change in a single amino acid may be link ...
APR 11, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 11, 2020
Behavioral Changes Linked to Early Onset of Alzheimer's
Researchers from McGill University in Canada have found a link between mild behavioral impairment (MBI) in elderly indiv ...
MAY 11, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 11, 2020
3D Cell Culture Model Suggests Herpes Can Cause Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's is a common form of dementia that affects as many as 5.5 million Americans and the incidence is increasing a ...
MAY 19, 2020
Neuroscience
MAY 19, 2020
Researchers Find Brain Cells that Shut Down Pain
Researchers at Duke University have found that a small group of cells in the brain may be able to regulate our sense of ...
JUN 01, 2020
Neuroscience
JUN 01, 2020
What Causes 'Good' and 'Bad' Trips in the Brain
People who use psychedelics like magic mushrooms, LSD and DMT often describe a feeling of going 'beyond their human ...
Loading Comments...