Mar. 22, 2009 Researchers in the School of Life & Health Sciences at Aston University in Birmingham, UK are developing a novel new way to model how the human brain works by creating a living representation of the brain.
They are using cells originally from a tumour which have been ‘reprogrammed’ to stop multiplying. Using the same natural molecule the body does to stimulate cellular development, the cells are turned into a co-culture of nerve cells and astrocytes - the most basic units of the human brain.
These co-cultures can be developed into tiny, connected balls of cells called neurospheres, which can process information, which, at a very simple level, is the basis of thought. The research process does not require animal testing and since 2007 has been generously supported by the Humane Research Trust.
In the future, the tiny three-dimensional cell clusters, which are essentially very small models of the human nervous system, could be used to develop new treatments for diseases including Alzheimer’s, Motor Neurone and Parkinson’s Disease. These progressive and debilitating neurodegenerative conditions are becoming more common as the population of the UK ages.
Professor Michael Coleman, who is leading the research team, said: ‘We are aiming to be able to study the human brain at the most basic level, using an actual living human cellular system. Cells have to be alive and operating efficiently to enable us to really understand how the brain works. In the longer term we hope that our procedure can be used to help us understand how conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases develop. At the moment, most people are only too aware that current treatments for these conditions do not halt their progress and often have side-effects. We hope that our technique will provide scientists with a new and highly relevant human experimental model to help us understand the brain better and develop new drugs and treatments to tackle neurodegenerative disease ’
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