Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain Through Stem Cell Research

Inside a lab at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, researchers are doing something truly remarkable. They are growing tiny versions of developing human brains in order to study everything from Alzheimer’s disease to the Zika virus. Alysson Muotri is the co-director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and leads the team researching brain organoids. He recently sat down with Dr. David Granet on Health Matters to discuss the endless possibilities of his research.

Muotri’s organoids are often referred to as “mini-brains,” but they are far from what that name might suggest. The organoids are grown from stem cells, which are harvested from living tissue, such as skin cells. Researchers give those stem cells instructions to become neural cells. Eventually they form tiny clusters of neural cells, about the size of a pea. Those clusters have been shown to exhibit some of the same characteristics of developing human brains, including firing electrical signals in specific patterns. But, the organoids do not contain every type of brain tissue, and have no vascularization.

Despite the differences with the human brain, organoids have proven useful in understanding and treating disease. One of the major successes of Muotri’s research was finding and testing an existing drug to treat mothers infected with Zika virus. The drug can prevent the disease from being passed to the baby and causing microcephaly. Muotri is hoping his lab will continue to have success using the organoids as an effective brain model to find more cures, and provide a deeper understanding of brain development and disease. And, his work isn’t limited to Earth. Muotri recently launched his organoids into space for a groundbreaking study.

Watch — Using Stem Cells to Research the Brain – Health Matters

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common cause of dementia among older adults, is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

This series presented by leading clinicians and researchers from the UCSF Memory and Aging Center provides in-depth review of the neurodegenerative diseases of the brain, focusing primarily on Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll learn about the diverse clinical manifestations of Alzheimer’s, stages of illness, and current state of science regarding diagnosis, treatment and management of Alzheimer’s and other related diseases.

Early diagnosis can help preserve daily functioning for some time, even though the underlying disease process cannot be stopped or reversed.

Browse more programs in Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases of the Brain.

All About the Brain

Explore the immensity of the human brain, its billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and the research that is helping us understand more about this complex and amazing organ.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s popular lecture series returns with four new episodes each relating to the brain. The lectures are aimed at a middle and high school level and presented by LLNL scientists in collaboration with high school science teachers. This is a great opportunity to get a look at the cutting-edge science in a friendly and understandable way. Explore the immensity of the human brain, its billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and the research that is helping understand more about this amazing organ.

Browse more programs in Field Trip at the Lab: Science on Saturday.

Studying the Brain in Real Time

8232“Basic mechanisms in the brain have universal applications and are the road to medical discovery,” says Ralph Greenspan, PhD. He has spent his career studying how genes affect the brain and behavior of the fruit fly. This research has lead to a deeper understanding of mechanisms in the human brain. Hear about his current efforts to develop a full brain scale activity map and the technological and medical breakthroughs emerging from this work.

Studying the Brain in Real Time with Ralph Greenspan – On Our Mind

View more programs from the Brain Channel

Dementia in Society

Dementia is a deterioration of cognitive function that begins with mild cognitive impairment, which appears just like forgetfulness, and eventually ends in death.

There are many causes of the disease such as stroke, chronic alcohol abuse and Alzheimer’s but there is no way to reverse the damage of the brain’s degeneration.

Dr. Mario D. Garrett of San Diego State University’s School of Social Work discusses the social impacts of dementia, such as the way dementia is classified by institutions and even the errors he has found in the way dementia is perceived.

Watch “Brain Fitness: Social Aspects of Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment – Research on Aging”  from the Stein Institute for Research on Aging to hear Garrett explain the revolution in dementia studies and the necessity for dementia victims to have social interaction.

Watch this other video on Dementia with Dr. Berneet Kaur.