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Finally a breakthrough! Fresh-grown brain tissue will save animals and dodge ethical norms

Posted April 19, 2017

Humans should be easy research subjects. They understand the importance of science and scientific method, they know what must be done in order for us to survive and develop our civilization. However, because of ethical boundaries we created, some researches are moving on slowly. Now scientists from the University of Luxembourg have managed to grow brain-like cultures in a petri dish.

Substantia nigra – the tiny little part in the human brain, which was replicated in this research. Image credit: staff via Wikimedia

Brain is a very complex organ and, obviously, a very important one. Scientists are inching towards curing such diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but the progress is still quite small, because they cannot do a lot of research with human brain. Ethical limitations are just some of the obstacles. Now scientists managed to turn human stem cells derived from skin samples into brain-like cultures. These structures feature different cell types, connected into a complex network, where they exchange signals and produce metabolic products typical of the active brain.

Scientists say that this is a tremendously huge achievement (maybe not in these words, admittedly), because it opens the doors to research the actual causes of Parkinson’s. Potentially, someday new drug therapies could be invented using this approach. These cultures in petri dishes in Luxembourg represent the human midbrain, where the substantia nigra, a tissue structure producing dopamine, is situated. Dopamine is responsible for smooth body movements, production of dopamine is disturbed during Parkinson’s progression.

The cells that scientists used can become any type of cell from human body, but cannot become a full organism. They had to use a very specific combination of growth factors and other techniques in order to push cells to grow into a particular type of a structure that they needed. And now they can use it without ethical limitations, which prohibited scientists from all over the world of taking samples of thesubstantia nigra.

Jens Schwamborn, leader of the research group, said: “We can test what effects environmental impacts such as pollutants have on the onset of the disease, whether there are new active agents that could possibly relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s – or whether the disease could even be cured from its very cause”.

This achievement is likely to lower testing on animals in this particular research field. It may make animal activists happy, but it is also more accurate, as these cell cultures in the petri dish are of a human origin. This could potentially accelerate Parkinson’s research.


Source: University of Luxembourg

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