The primary and ultimate goal of stem cell research is creation of functional tissues and organs which can be used as replacements in times of injury or disease. A major step forward was taken recently on this front by a group from RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan. They announced in Cell Reports that they have successfully grown 3D functional brain tissue that has even grown with proper patterning.
Truly speaking, embryonic stem cells have been used to grow tissues and even entire organs in the lab. However, for the nervous system it is a monumental task. Apart from generating specific neurons, they must be coaxed into connecting to each other in very specific ways to function.
In their report, the scientists mention that the embryonic stem cells that they toyed around with were treated with certain growth factors. These directed them to develop into neurons that are specific to a part of the brain called Cerebellum. Furthermore, these growth factors compelled the neurons to start communicating with one another resulting in the formation of a functional, cerebellum like three-dimensional structure. The functionality of these neurons was established using electrophysiological recordings.
“The principles of self-organization that we have demonstrated here are important for the future of developmental biology,” said lead author Keiko Muguruma. “Attempts to generate the cerebellum from human iPS [induced pluripotent stem] cells have already met with some success, and these patient-derived cerebellar neurons and tissues will be useful for modeling cerebellar diseases such as spinocerebellar ataxia.”
The self-patterning of cells seen in this study was similar to what can be expected during the first trimester of embryonic development. They hope to refine this method and develop methods for culturing the brain tissue longer in lab. It took the team 35 days to create this structure and 15 weeks following its creation, it responded to various stimuli.
Cerebellum is a vital part of the brain as it controls movements and possibly some cognitive functions such as attention and language. This study takes noteworthy strides to gain a better understanding of the cause of neurological disorders and may even help find a cure for them.
The original article can be accessed here.