Direct studies on the brain are inherently difficult, as it’s a complex and fragile organ hidden behind a thick skull. Animal studies can help, but animal brains are different from human ones. In order to better study how the brain works and its pathophysiology, researchers have been working on growing tiny replicas of specific parts of the brain in the lab.
Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany are reporting the development of a brain organoid model of neuronal heterotopia, a rare condition in which the cortex of the brain, its outer layer, doesn’t form properly. The disease comes with developmental challenges as well as epileptic seizures, which puts a major strain on people suffering from it and their caretakers.
The researchers created their organoids from induced pluripotent stem cells gathered from neuronal heterotopia patients. The organoids are three-dimensional and can be easily studied under the microscope, as well as being manipulated using various liquid mediums.
Studying these organoids, the researchers showed that the cells of the organoids had a morphology and navigational abilities different from healthy cells. Moreover, the team identified a set of molecular signatures that are related to the disease, providing them an array of mechanisms that may be good targets for treating the condition.