Growing Human Brain Cells in the Lab

Source: Gladstone Institutes

Summary: A new technology which is cost-effective has been developed to produce large quantities of human brain cells from induced pluripotent stem cells in the lab to facilitate drug discovery.

When new potential drugs are discovered, they have to be tested on human cells to confirm whether they benefit or not to the patients. Dr. Li Gan and her team at Gladstone Institutes wants to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s patients but they are hit with major roadblocks. In the past, most of these kinds of tests are conducted in the cancer cells which generally don’t match the biology of human brain cells. To address this issue induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)are used by many of the researchers. Skin cells are reprogrammed to become stem cells (can be transformed in to any type cell) whereby iPSCs are produced. The study was published in the journal, Stem Cell Reports.

Human brain cells derived from pluripotent stem cells


Deriving human brain cells from iPSCs may offer a great potential in drug screening but the process can be very complicated, expensive and highly variable. To overcome these problems, researchers discovered a new way by manipulating the genetic makeup of the cells to produce 1000’s of neurons just from a single iPSC, through this way, now every engineered brain cell was identical. This new approach has tremendous potential to screen drugs and study disease mechanisms. Researchers developed a drug discovery platform and screened 1280 compounds and check the compounds that could decrease the levels of Tau proteins in the brain. This approach is promising in Alzheimer’s research and could lead to the discovery of new drugs to treat the disease.

Li Gan, senior investigator, explained, “The problem is that brain cells from actual people can’t survive in a dish, so we need to engineer human cells in the lab, But, that’s not as simple as it may sound”, and further added, “We have developed a cost-effective technology to produce large quantities of human brain cells in two simple steps, By surmounting major challenges in human neuron-based drug discovery, we believe this technique will be adopted widely in both basic science and industry.”

More Information: Chao Wang et al, “Scalable Production of iPSC-Derived Human Neurons to Identify Tau-Lowering Compounds by High-Content Screening” Stem Cell Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2017.08.019


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