Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital are advancing Alzheimer’s research by creating lab grown models of affected neurons, which will allow for a vastly improved and nuanced understanding of the inner-workings of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder that is difficult to diagnose and currently, can only be confirmed during a post-mortem autopsy, which usually reveals the neural inflammation that is believed to be the cause of most of the symptoms leading to the ultimate loss of memory and basic skills. Using stem cells, the researchers were able to grow neurons that exhibit both neuroinflammation and the indicative tangles and plaques of Alzheimer’s. This major breakthrough should enable the development of more targeted, effective treatments - and possibly a cure for Alzheimer’s, which currently affects millions of people worldwide and has no effective treatment options.
Researchers at USC [University of Southern California] have utilized stem cells to track neuronal growth and identify specific genes that appear to be responsible for the development of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. The study linked the DISC1 gene to the development of schizophrenia, which currently does not have effective treatments and causes disproportionate disability compared to other neurological disorders. Like many neurological disorders, the source of schizophrenia has been ambiguous and this research, with the use of stem cells, is helping to navigate this disorder. Through the utilization of stem cells, the study determined how genes like DISC1 function in the body, and their downstream impact on protein function and neurotransmitter production by tracking the gene expression.
Researchers at UC Davis have created lab-grown brain organoids that are complex and vascularized, dramatically furthering research for brain disorders. Given that the human brain is one of the most complex anatomical structures and researchers are still discovering new functions and neuronal pathways, having brain organoids in vitro greatly expedites this research. When several small brain organoids joined together, researchers observed nerve impulses among the structures, signifying cellular communication that resembles that of fully-grown human brains. In a recent development, these organoids have vascularized and have brought researchers one step closer to both understanding neurological disorders, as well as helping patients replace damaged neurons from conditions like strokes, Alzheimer’s etc.