Neuroscientists simulated embryonic brain development

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have developed a model that, in particular, showed how the brain develops at the very beginning of its path – at the second or seventh week of embryonic development. These steps were previously genuine terra incognita for brain researchers. An article about the work is published in the publication Nature Biotechnology.

The new laboratory model is based on embryonic stem cells grown in the microfluidic system. The work was carried out jointly with Swedish colleagues from Lund University.

As the first author of the article, Pedro Reifs, explains, in the first weeks of fetal development, growth factors affect the brain. It is their different concentrations that serve to create nerve cells from progenitor cells and the formation of various areas of our brain. In order to simulate these conditions and obtain an identical (or rather close) result, scientists use microfluidic methods: they make it possible to create an environment in which the embryo is at the beginning of its development path. Such early stages could not be studied before, and the new opportunities that the model provides mean a lot to scientists.

The model will serve an extremely important goal: thanks to it, you can draw up a kind of roadmap for the development of brain cells, or else – a “tree of development” of the brain. This will give an understanding of the path that all the cells that create the most complex structure in our brain go through. Since the resulting tissue is very close to early embryonic, this will allow us to trace the path of individual cells of various types.

The authors hope that the “tree of development” of the brain will help scientists from different countries to create different types of nerve cells, for example, when growing the right stem cells. By exploring how cells develop in their natural environment, it will be possible to simplify the protocols necessary to create the necessary types of neurons “in vitro”.

Lead author Agnete Kirkeby is involved in a project to develop stem cell therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease. The team created in the laboratory dopaminergic nerve cells that die in this disease.

Agnete notes that this was a very long way: it took more than 10 years to create such cells by trial and error. She explains that having a new model and understanding the early stages of brain development will help researchers significantly reduce this process in future work of this kind. “This will allow us to quickly and efficiently develop cell-based treatments for neurological diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and certain types of dementia,” Kirkeby says.

In addition, the embryonic brain model will serve other important purposes: for example, it can be influenced by the environment and various substances, such as components of food, drugs, chemicals or cosmetics, on an unborn baby.

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