After a few days or weeks, you test each well to see which compounds are the most promising for further testing. If you tried to repeat the same massive screening process with pipette-wielding lab workers, it might take years to complete.
Alzheimer’s researchers want to use the same high-throughput screening technique to test thousands of potentially life-saving compounds on brain cells. For that to work, though, they first need to find a reliably homogeneous supply of identical brain cells to run through the screening process.
But unlike human cancer cells, which are easily cloned and grown in the lab, human brain cells don’t survive in a dish. Instead, researchers have attempted to grow their own brain cells from induced pluripotent stem cells, which are skin or blood cells that have been reprogramed to become undifferentiated, blank-slate stem cells.
That’s easier said than done, though.
To grow a brain cell from a stem cell, you need to mimic the natural biological differentiation process that results in a specific type of brain cell. That requires a cocktail of precisely-timed doses of chemicals called growth factors that activate and deactivate different genes in the growing cell.
The trouble with most lab-grown brain cells is they’re highly heterogeneous by nature, meaning that different subtypes of neurons and glia — a “helper” cell in the central nervous system — emerge from the same differentiation process and then need to be sorted out. This multi-step process is expensive and time-consuming, especially for researchers who want to generate millions of identical brain cells for high-throughput screening.
The good news is a far cheaper and much faster system may be on the way. A team of Alzheimer’s researchers from the Gladstone Institutes has developed a simple, two-step process for growing thousands of identical neurons from a single stem cell, according to a paper published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
Li Gan is associate director and senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and a professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.
Read more: https://www.seeker.com/health/biotech/a-cheaper-faster-way-for-growing-human-brain-cells