In a first, a team of scientists successfully grew mini-brains in the lab which will help develop treatments and conduct other studies into Parkinson's Disease (PD) and aging-related brain diseases.The miniature versions of the human midbrain measure about 2 mm to 3 mm long, about the size of a grain of rice.
These mini midbrain versions are three dimensional miniature tissues made up of laboratory-grown tissues known as brain organoids and have certain properties of specific parts of the human brains. This is composed of functionally active neurons with cells than can divide or cluster together, and become electrically or chemically active, just like an actual human brain. The scientists detected the black pigment neuromelanin in an organoid model. The study also revealed functionally active dopaminergic neurons which produce dopamine.
‘Lab grown mini mid-brains, that have the size r a grain on rice will help in developing treatments for Parkinson’s disease and other aging-related brain conditions.’
In PD, the neuromelanin production reduces, leading to the degenerative condition of patients which includes tremors and impaired motor skills.
The human midbrain is the body's "information superhighway" and controls vision, auditory and body movements. It contains dopaminergic neurons that produce dopamine, which is responsible for some executive functions, motor control, motivation, reinforcement and reward. High levels of dopamine elevate motor activity and impulsive behavior whereas low levels of dopamine lead to slowed reactions and disorders like PD which is characterized by stiffness and difficulties in initiating movements.
The scientists said that the development could provide researchers with material that is affected by the disease itself and enable them to conduct studies in the laboratory instead of relying on simulations and animal experiments.
"Considering one of the biggest challenges we face in PD research is the lack of accessibility to the human brains, we have achieved a significant step forward," said Professor Ng Huck Hui from The Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS).
The midbrain organoids display great potential in replacing animals' brains which are currently used in research. These midbrains can now be used in culture instead to advance our understanding and future studies for the disease, and perhaps even other related diseases, he added in a statement.
"It is remarkable that our midbrain organoids mimic human midbrain development. The cells divide, cluster together in layers, and become electrically and chemically active in three-dimensional environment like our brain," noted Assistant Professor Shawn Je from Duke-NUS Medical School's Neuroscience & Behavioural Disorders Programme. Now we can really test how these mini brains react to existing or newly developed drugs before treating patients, which will be a game changer for drug development, Je pointed out.