Scientists at the University of Luxembourg's Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) have successfully grown tiny, 3D brain-like cultures that behave just like cells in human midbrain.
Their results, published in the journal Stem Cells Report, showed that human stem cells derived from the skin and placed in a petri dish are capable of turning into some sort of human brain tissues.
"Our subsequent examination of these artificial tissue samples revealed that various cell types characteristic of the midbrain had developed," said Jens Schwamborn, a stem cell researchers at LCSB and lead investigator of the research, in a press release. "The cells can transmit and process signals. We were even able to detect dopaminergic cells -- just like in the midbrain."
For their research, the LCSB scientists first develop a precise cocktail of growth hormones and perform certain treatments in order to convert the so-called induced pluripotent stem cells into brain cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells are the kind of stem cells that cannot produce a complete organism, but can be transformed into all cell types of the human body.
The researchers observed that the induced pluripotent stem cells in their petri dishes began multiplying and spreading out into a three-dimensional supporting structure -- producing tissue-like cell cultures. Further examinations on the artificial tissues sample reveal that various cell types characteristic of the midbrain had develop.
Due to its similarities to human midbrain, the artificial tissue sample can be used for Parkinson's research. The human midbrain is a particular interest in Parkinson's research.
The researchers noted that the midbrain houses a tissue structure known as substantia nigra, where nerve cells produce the messenger dopamine. Dopamine is needed to maintain smooth body movements. Parkinson's disease occurs when dopaminergic neurons die off, leading to tremors and muscle rigidity.
With the development of artificial brain tissue, researchers could now study the human midbrain more extensively. Additionally, the artificial tissue also resembles human brain than animal models. This could help reduce the amount of animal testing in brain research.
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