What brain cells grown in the lab are revealing

“It’s quite amazing that we can recapitulate a psychiatric disease in a petri dish,” says neuroscientist Fred Gage.

By KAVLI FOUNDATION
October 23, 2011 09:56
2 minute read.
X-ray of a brain

Brain 311 T. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

For many poorly understood mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or autism, scientists have wished they could uncover what goes wrong inside the brain before damage ensues.

Now in a significant advancement, researchers are using genetic engineering and growth factors to reprogram the skin cells of patients with schizophrenia, autism, and other neurological disorders and grow them into brain cells in the laboratory. There, under their careful watch, investigators can detect inherent defects in how neurons develop or function, or see what environmental toxins or other factors prod them to misbehave in the petri dish. With these “diseases in a dish” they can also test the effectiveness of drugs that can right missteps in development, or counter the harm of environmental insults.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


“It’s quite amazing that we can recapitulate a psychiatric disease in a petri dish,” says neuroscientist Fred Gage, a professor of genetics at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and member of the executive committee of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind (KIBM) at the University of California, San Diego. “This allows us to identify subtle changes in the functioning of neuronal circuits that we never had access to before.”

Prior to this disease-in-a-dish approach, the only main avenue researchers had to study human brain disorders in detail was to look for abnormalities in brain tissue removed from patients after their deaths. But such specimens were usually of poor quality, and often were taken from patients when they were in the end stages of a brain disorder. This made it difficult to assess what went awry earlier before much brain damage ensued and treatments would be more likely to be effective.

So there was great excitement when Gage reported in Nature, in the spring of 2011, that using this approach, he could see subtle anatomic differences between the neurons of normal and schizophrenic patients too small to be seen in imaging studies. When comparing the genes expressed in the neurons derived from schizophrenic patients to that of normal neurons, he also discovered altered expression of several genes that govern certain neuronal developmental pathways.

“The most amazing developments in the field over the last year or so are these examples where you can see differences in cells isolated from controls and patients,” Anirvan Ghosh, a neurobiologist at the University of California at San Diego and executive committee member of KIBM. “It’s something people have been speculating about for awhile, but to actually see the differences is very exciting from a scientific point of view.”

The findings from this disease-in-a-dish approach are helping explain the causes of mental disorders that have baffled researchers for generations because they couldn’t peer inside the brains of patients. Drug companies are also excited about these models. “Now we can use cultures derived from individuals who are living to test drugs on their neurons to see their effectiveness and toxicity,” Gage said, pointing out that this personalized approach for assessing treatment is more likely to be effective than standard drug tests, given the variability in what causes mental disorders and people’s varied reactions to the same drugs.



This article was first published at www.newswise.com

Related Content

Lab
August 31, 2014
Weizmann scientists bring nature back to artificially selected lab mice

By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH