Organoids: Mini human brains have grown in petri-dish

Petri dishes are used in research facilities worldwide to develop small, immature clones of organs such as brains, bladders, and pancreas. Organoids, which are collections of human cells, are already supporting researchers in the medical field in gaining fresh insights into a wide variety of diseases.

This past Wednesday, 12th October 2022, a group of researchers from many countries across the globe successfully implanted human brain organoids into the brains of newborn rats. Their results were published in the journal Nature and detailed their accomplishment. The development of organoids with rats will make it possible to research severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

Organoids are being investigated in different phases of development in labs all around the world. These stages range from early to late. At the molecular processes of the pathological and physiological aging laboratory at the Pasteur Institute in France, researchers have been cultivating millions of brain organoids since the late 2020s.

So how do they work?

Stem cells are created in nature whenever an egg is fertilized by sperm. These stem cells, dubbed “pluripotent,” can potentially differentiate into other human cells, including brain and skin cells.

About twenty years ago, Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka discovered a means to revert adult cells to their pluripotent stage, where they may differentiate into any cell.

In 2012, Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his groundbreaking discovery of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS), which many believe could usher in a new era of human biological research. The Pasteur Institute group has employed iPS cells to rapidly expand brain organoids to a size of 3–4 millimeters.

Compared to the human brain, organoids are quite simple. These organoids are constructed from several cell types that communicate to produce layered structures that are properly arranged, much as in a real brain. The resulting three-dimensional structure of the organoids is strikingly comparable to that of the human brain at roughly 20 weeks of development. 

It is envisaged that organoids will give a novel approach to studying disease progression and testing potential treatments. They might be used to learn, for instance, whether or not a medicine is hazardous and how its molecules work. This can potentially reduce the number of animal testing that is now necessary.

To learn more about the molecular-level effects of space travel on human brain cells, researchers want to send some organoids to the International Space Station. This is only one of the many promising developments in this expanding industry. Organoids allow scientists to go beyond the confines of two-dimensional cell cultures.

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