Stem cells have the unique ability to self-renew and differentiate into various cell types. They offer a promising avenue for studying and treating various human diseases, including those affecting the brain.
The most complex organ in humans is the brain and much about it is yet to be discovered. Ideally, researchers would directly study the human brain, but this is often technically or ethically impossible. Therefore, our scientists need to find alternative ways to conduct research on the brain.
Reprogramming human somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offers an innovative approach to the study of many human genetic diseases. Like human embryonic stem cells, iPS cells self-renew indefinitely and have unlimited developmental potential.
Researchers succeeded in turning human stem cells derived from skin samples into tiny, three-dimensional, brain-like cultures call organoids. They behave very similarly to cells in the human midbrain, the part of the brain that degenerates in Parkinson’s disease. Using skin samples from individual patients, these “mini-brains” can be used to study the causes of Parkinson’s disease and how it could be effectively treated.
Being able to convert one type of cell into another – for instance transforming a skin cell into a nerve cell – is very useful. Computational researchers look at cellular factors that need to be changed to induce the conversion. Using computational modelling, they search for specific genes that characterise different cell types and design cocktails of chemical compounds that trigger cellular conversion and could ultimately be used for regenerative medicine.
Research takes place at:
Developmental & Cellular Biology