Researchers in the United States have perfected mini-cultured 3D structures that grow and function much like the outer tissue (cortex) of the brain of the person from whom they have been harvested. These 'organoids' buzz with neuronal network activity where cells talk to each other in circuits, similarly as they do in our brains. This evolving 'disease-in-a-dish' technology is bringing closer the day when patients can ask for personalized medicines, said the study.
Thomas R Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said, "The cortex spheroids grow to a state in which they express functional connectivity, allowing for modeling and understanding of mental illnesses."
Before this study, scientists led by Sergiu Pasca of the Stanford University had developed a way to study neurons differentiated from stem cells derived from patients' skin cells. They had even produced primitive organoids by coaxing neurons and support cells to organize themselves, mimicking the brain's architecture.
Based on a streamlined method, Pasca's research team's cortex-like spheroids harbor healthier neurons, resulting in more functional neural connections and circuitry. Like a developing brain, these neurons form layers and talk with each other via neural networks.
David Panchision, program director for stem cell research, said, "While the technology is still maturing, there is great potential for using these assays to more accurately develop, test safety and effectiveness of new treatments before they are used in individuals with a mental illness."
The study appears online in the Nature Methods