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
Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common cause of dementia among older adults, is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
This series presented by leading clinicians and researchers from the UCSF Memory and Aging Center provides in-depth review of the neurodegenerative diseases of the brain, focusing primarily on Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll learn about the diverse clinical manifestations of Alzheimer’s, stages of illness, and current state of science regarding diagnosis, treatment and management of Alzheimer’s and other related diseases.
Early diagnosis can help preserve daily functioning for some time, even though the underlying disease process cannot be stopped or reversed.
Browse more programs in Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases of the Brain.
Explore the immensity of the human brain, its billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and the research that is helping us understand more about this complex and amazing organ.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s popular lecture series returns with four new episodes each relating to the brain. The lectures are aimed at a middle and high school level and presented by LLNL scientists in collaboration with high school science teachers. This is a great opportunity to get a look at the cutting-edge science in a friendly and understandable way. Explore the immensity of the human brain, its billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and the research that is helping understand more about this amazing organ.
Browse more programs in Field Trip at the Lab: Science on Saturday.
“All the best models are the ones that you can improve in complexity to get closer and closer to the reality.”
The idea of a brain in a dish may sound like science fiction to some but scientists are becoming more and more adept at creating cortical organoids in the lab. The organoids are models of what is happening in utero as the brain forms. Being able to study this kind of human development not only opens new insights into neurological conditions but raises ethical questions.
Alysson Muotri, director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program, gives a look at how his lab is using these organoids to model specific conditions, treat disease, and explore fundamental brain mechanisms. Learn what the limitations, future projections, and ethical concerns are surrounding this exciting science.
Watch Re-constructing Brains in the Lab to Revolutionize Neuroscience – Exploring Ethics
Why do some people develop addictions and others don’t? Does that provide insight in how to mediate addictive responses and behaviors? Join The Scripps Research Institutes’ Olivier George as he talks about his research and shares insights into how the brain responds to a variety of drugs, both illicit and prescription – as well as alcohol and nicotine – and new directions in developing novel therapies to reduce compulsive drug use and abuse.
Watch Drug Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Finding New Therapies to Fight Drug Addiction with Olivier George – Saturday Science at Scripps Research