Scientists at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) have succeeded in turning human stem cells from skin samples into “tiny, three-dimensional, brain-like cultures”.
The LCSB, part of the University of Luxembourg, said the cultures behaved “very similarly” to cells in the human midbrain.
They said they had succeeded in getting various cell types to develop, connect, exchange signals and “produce metabolic products typical of the active brain”.
Professor Jens Schwamborn, in whose research group the work was done, said: “Our cell cultures open new doors to brain research.
“We can now use them to study the causes of Parkinson’s disease and how it could possibly be effectively treated.”
The human “midbrain” – particularly the structure known as the substantia nigra – is of great interest in the fight against Parkinson’s.
Researchers are unable to remove cells from this region of the brain for study due to ethical concerns.
But the work done at the LCSB may help researchers to resolve this problem.
The team led by Schwamborn is one of several research groups around the world working to cultivate “three-dimensional structures of the midbrain” in petri dishes.
“On our new cell cultures,” Schwamborn said, “we can study the mechanisms that lead to Parkinson’s much better than was ever the case before.
“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.
“We will be performing such investigations next.”
Researchers say the development of the brain-like tissue cultures could also help reduce the amount of animal testing in brain research.