Category Archives: Health Matters

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain Through Stem Cell Research

Inside a lab at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, researchers are doing something truly remarkable. They are growing tiny versions of developing human brains in order to study everything from Alzheimer’s disease to the Zika virus. Alysson Muotri is the co-director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and leads the team researching brain organoids. He recently sat down with Dr. David Granet on Health Matters to discuss the endless possibilities of his research.

Muotri’s organoids are often referred to as “mini-brains,” but they are far from what that name might suggest. The organoids are grown from stem cells, which are harvested from living tissue, such as skin cells. Researchers give those stem cells instructions to become neural cells. Eventually they form tiny clusters of neural cells, about the size of a pea. Those clusters have been shown to exhibit some of the same characteristics of developing human brains, including firing electrical signals in specific patterns. But, the organoids do not contain every type of brain tissue, and have no vascularization.

Despite the differences with the human brain, organoids have proven useful in understanding and treating disease. One of the major successes of Muotri’s research was finding and testing an existing drug to treat mothers infected with Zika virus. The drug can prevent the disease from being passed to the baby and causing microcephaly. Muotri is hoping his lab will continue to have success using the organoids as an effective brain model to find more cures, and provide a deeper understanding of brain development and disease. And, his work isn’t limited to Earth. Muotri recently launched his organoids into space for a groundbreaking study.

Watch — Using Stem Cells to Research the Brain – Health Matters

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Spotting the Warning Signs of Kawasaki Disease

It is one of the most common causes of acquired heart disease in pediatrics, yet very little is known about Kawasaki Disease. It was discovered by Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki in Japan in the 1960s. It has since been documented around the world, including a spike in cases in San Diego earlier this year. Yet, the cause of Kawasaki Disease remains a mystery.

Dr. Jane Burns is the director of the UC San Diego Kawasaki Disease Research Center, and one of the leading experts on the disease. She sat down to discuss her research, and what parents need to know about Kawasaki Disease with Dr. David Granet on Health Matters. She says because it starts off with a sudden high fever, Kawasaki Disease can often be misdiagnosed as a common virus. But, parents can easily spot the telltale symptoms in the following days: bloodshot eyes, bright red mouth and lips, swollen and red hands and feet, and body rash.

When untreated, one in four children with Kawasaki Disease will develop permanent, potentially fatal heart disease. Those complications can usually be avoided with proper treatment, but it’s expensive and out of reach for millions of children around the world. That’s why Dr. Burns and her team continue to investigate the mysterious disease.

Watch — Understanding Kawasaki Disease – Health Matters

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