Building Human Brains: How A Brain Grown In A Laboratory Dish May Aid Alzheimer’s ResearchThe Alzheimer's Site
Scientists involved in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and severe autism have something new to add to their arsenal — the most complete human brain model ever invented. Developed by researchers at The Ohio State University, this lab-grown brain is designed to mimic a real brain.
To create the lab-grown brain, researcher Rene Anaud altered adult human skin cells to express the genes found in neural tissue. The resulting model brain has structures equivalent to those found in a five-week-old fetus and includes 99 percent of the genes found in a real brain. Because this model doesn’t use embryonic or fetal tissue, it poses fewer ethical issues than other methods of brain research, and the human genes help eliminate the problems that occur when researchers use rat or mouse brain tissue to study human diseases. By testing new treatments and drugs on the lab-created brains, scientists can get an accurate picture of how those therapies might work in real human brains. These model brains can also be used to help decipher the intricate interactions of genes and environment so researchers can develop new treatments for brain disorders.
Growing each model brain takes about 15 weeks, and the resulting tissue sample is about the size of a pencil eraser. Despite the small size, the model provides a wide range of tissue types, including functioning neurons, support cells and retinal cells. The lab-grown brain doesn’t currently have a vascular system to bring blood deep into the tissues, but Anaud and his colleagues plan to work on adding this feature to future brain models. The researchers hope to use the lab-grown brains to study multiple diseases affecting the brain including autism and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as traumatic brain injury and strokes.
While this new brain model pushes research forward, there’s still plenty of work to do when it comes to treating and preventing dementia and other complex brain diseases. Check out the Alzheimer’s Site to discover ways you can help support research into Alzheimer’s disease.