Using stem cells to understand the inner ear

29 August 2017
University of Melbourne PhD student Cristiana Mattei

Cristiana Mattei is a PhD student based in the Centre for Neural Engineering at the University of Melbourne where she is using brain organoids to study how the brain develops and what happens in degenerative disease, brain injury and in neuro-cognitive disorders. Cristiana was recently awarded a prize for the Best Student Presentation at the 2017 Stem Cells Australia Retreat. 

The study of neurological disorders has been impeded by the challenge of getting samples of nerves and other cells from healthy and disease brains. Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), obtained from human embryos or created in the laboratory from a patient’s own cells, have the capacity to give rise to all cell types of the human body, including neurons, and as such are receiving much attention in the field of regenerative medicine.

Cristiana and her colleagues are harnessing the potential of hPSCs to understand how the human brain forms and the mechanisms that control these processes. They have been focussing on improving laboratory protocols for generating different areas of developing human brain. However, in order to properly model brain development and neurological disorders in the lab, they had to first develop an in vitro system for growing the cells in 3D. Called the Rotary Cell Culture System (RCCS), the bioreactor they have proposed, is capable of supporting the generation of nerves from stem cells and the formation of brain organoids.

Their research has demonstrated that the RCCS is capable of supporting the development of inner ear organoids from hPSCs including several steps involved maturing hair cells that is so crucial for functional hearing and balance. 

In her paper Cristiana discussed how their model may be of great benefit for developing therapies to enable regeneration of the cells involved in hearing and also for studying developmental processes occurring within the inner ear. 

Cristiana Mattei’s presentation was entitled: Generation of inner ear organoids enriched with mechanosensitive vestibular hair cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells.