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Researchers Generate Tissues Capable Of Precisely Recapitulating Brain Development

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University grow a complete human cerebral cortex in laboratory dishes.

Organoid technology has revolutionized the ability to generate and study human tissue using stem cells in the laboratory. However, the technique was not entirely capable of developing complete brain tissues. Now, a research published in Nature Methods on July 25, 2018 demonstrates the process of growing brain organoids that now contain all the major cell types found in the human cerebral cortex. Oligodendrocytes primarily function to provide support and insulation to axons in the central nervous system. They are critical for a healthy brain as they produce myelin— a fatty substance that wraps and supports nerve cell connections. The ability of the nerve cells to communicate effectively is lost without the presence of myelin. Furthermore, several neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rare pediatric genetic disorders result from myelin defects.

According to the researchers the improved organoid system could assist in myelin-enhancing medications as the system provides an efficient medium to predict the safety and efficacy of new myelin therapeutics prior to its clinical trial in humans. The team tested organoids with drugs that had previously enhanced myelin production in mice. Furthermore, the system test drugs that enhance the generation of human oligodendrocytes and myelin and was efficient in generating organoids from patients with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, a rare but fatal genetic myelin disorder. Such organoids generated from three different mutations in Pelizaeus-Merzbacher’s, demonstrated unique characteristics that could be targeted for drug treatment. The findings prove that organoid technology is a versatile platform to observe and dissect human myelin disease and test individualized therapeutics.