At the frontier of tomorrow’s medicine: Modelling the brain to understand neurodegenerative diseases.

12 November 2019
Meet Australian researchers who use stem cells to advance our understanding of how the body develops and what happens during disease.

Professor Ernst Wolvetang uses human induced pluripotent stem cells, cells reprogrammed from a patient’s skin cell, to model the brain and understand neurodegenerative diseases and possible treatment opportunities. 

Creating reprogrammed stem cells from a patient captures all the genetic and disease information, making it a perfect model to understand the disease. Ernst’s lab at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology grows 3D brain organoids which represent parts of the brain. The team then ‘listen in’ on these brain organoids through an electroencephalogram and interrogate what happens during disease. 

Using stem cell models of parts of the brain allows researchers to see, in real time, neural cells as they progress through the disease stages and characterise these cells and their mutations. 

PhD student Cecilia Gomez Inclan is using stem cells to recreate the genetic mutations they observe in the brain organoids to understand which mutations confers disease and this helps take steps closer to understanding treatment options. 

Ernst places a high level of importance on public engagement, and regularly speaks at public events, to explain his research and the impact he hopes it will have in the future. This, he believes, along with interacting with ethicists and regulatory bodies, will help make informed decisions about the progress of his research.

Australian stem cell researchers are making important discoveries in the lab, that will move research outcomes towards clinical applications. Watch their videos.