Making miniature human brains

29 August 2013
A study published in the journal Nature shows that European scientists have been able to use stem cells to generate a 3D structure that mimics the developing human brain and has implications for understanding neurological disorders. 

Putting this development into context, Professor Martin Pera made the following comment:

 "This remarkable report shows that human pluripotent stem cells derived from embryos or adult tissues can form three dimensional structures in a petri dish that resemble the developing human brain. Building on previous work, the authors discovered that stem cells grown in the laboratory can not only form the cells of the nervous system, but that these cells can also assemble into well organized structures with the architecture characteristic of large regions of the brain, like the cerebral cortex.

The results provide a new window into a stage of human development that has previously been inaccessible to study.  Because many common disorders including schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy have their origins in embryonic or fetal life, this technology provides a powerful new approach towards understanding the biology and genetics of these and other diseases of neural development.

The authors of the study showed that stem cells from a patient with microcephaly, a severe disorder that disrupts brain development, gave rise to smaller and poorly formed brain like structures in a dish. Thus the cell cultures reflected the disease seen in the patient."

The paper, entitled Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly, was published today in Nature.

To hear more about this research, listen to an interview with Prof Pera, Program Leader of Stem Cells Australia, on ABC Radio AM.