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Scientists Produce Brain Organoids with Primitive Eyes

Rio de Janeiro (BR), March 2019 — Scientists have improved the initial steps of a standard protocol and produced organoids displaying regionalized brain structures, including retinal pigmented cells. The announcement was made recently in BMC Developmental Biology by the D'Or Institute for Research and Education's team.

Human brain organoids are aggregates formed by nerve cells obtained from cell reprogramming — cells are extracted from the skin or urine of volunteers, transformed into stem cells and then into neurons and other nerve cell types. They are cultivated for weeks, until they start forming agglomerates that resemble an embryonic brain.

For the past few years, scientists have been trying to perfect this model to create organoids that are increasingly complex and similar to those in later stages of development.

Since 2016, in partnership with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), scientists from the D'Or Institute have cultivated human brain organoids to study neurological diseases and the effects of new drugs on the nervous system. They put nerve cells in a nutrient-rich liquid, similar to the development environment of the human embryo. From there, the mini-brains develop in a self-regulated process. All one must do is make sure they have the right environment to develop.

Recently, the team led by Stevens Rehen, Ph.D., was able to refine that environment where the cells are maintained. Their protocol improves the initial steps of the standard brain organoid formation and produced organoids that displayed regionalized brain structures, including retinal pigmented cells, the team reported.

"These organoids are a demonstration that it is possible to repeat, in the laboratory, increasingly advanced gradients of human brain development," Dr. Rehen added. "We developed a cost-effective suspension method on orbital steering plates as an alternative for the cultivation of brain organoids with retinal pigmented cells."


75-day-old brain organoid with staining for neurons (green) and astrocytes (red).
Image courtesy of D'Or Institute for Research and Education.

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