UCSD Researchers Find Simpler Way to Create Human Brain ‘Organoids’

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False color image of a slice of human brain organoid from a patient with autism spectrum disorder. Photo by Alysson Muotri, UC San Diego Health

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine Thursday announced the development of a quicker and cheaper process to create simplified versions of human organs, including the brain.

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Methods to study early human brain function are limited by the ethical and medical constraints of using live embryonic subjects and the inadequacy of animal and single-cell models. Thus, researchers have used human organoids — miniaturized and simplified versions of organs — created from stem cells to study the functions of the brain and other human organs in better detail.

“Cerebral organoids can form a variety of brain regions,” said Dr. Alysson Muotri, UCSD professor and senior author of the report. “They exhibit neurons that are functional and capable of electrical excitation. They resemble human cortical development at the gene expression levels.”

In the past, the development of brain organoids was laborious and expensive, requiring special tools and specific knowledge of stem cell generation. The new report in Stem Cells and Development by Muotri and her colleagues details the ways in which they’ve made it easier than ever to develop organoids.

In essence, the researchers reprogrammed somatic cells into cortical cells, streamlining the process of tissue development and allowing for organoids developed from the cells with minor manipulation.

“The potential uses are vast, including creating large brain organoid repositories and the discovery of causal genetic variants to human neurological conditions associated with several mutations of unknown significance, such as autism spectrum disorder,” Muotri said. “If we want to understand the variability in human cognition, this is the first step.”

–City News Service

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