Making human brain stem cells grow for longer periods

The neurobiologists and material scientists have teamed up to innovate the petri-dish to be able to grow and age live brain cells from patients with neurological disorders. 

The key advance is a critical element in achieving targeted drug treatments for individuals and could enhance future studies on conditions ranging from dementia, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, autism and mental health.

In recent years researchers around the world have managed to turn patients’ skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells and brain cells. This Nobel Prize winning breakthrough gives new hope for neurological therapeutic discoveries, which are notoriously difficult due to limited access to patient brains. However much still need to be accomplished to make this lab model as realistic and effective as possible.

The researchers assessed thin-film plasma polymer treatments, polymeric factors, and extracellular matrix coatings for extending the adherence of human neuronal cultures on glass. They found that positive-charged, amine-based plasma polymers improve the adherence of a range of human brain cells.

Diaminopropane (DAP) treatment with laminin-based coating optimally supports long-term maturation of fundamental ion channel properties and synaptic activity of human neurons. They also demonstrated that DAP-treated glass is ideal for live imaging, patch-clamping, and optogenetics.

A DAP-treated glass surface reduces the technical variability of human neuronal models and enhances electrophysiological maturation, allowing more reliable discoveries of treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.

The Lab has published the latest developments in Stem Cell Reports and will scale up the approach to test new potential treatments for Parkinson’s disease, brain cancer and a form a childhood dementia.

“Along with our patented BrainPhys medium, this new substrate will significantly improve laboratory testing on human brain cells. Advancing patient-specific pre-clinical research is so important for so many people both young and older who currently suffer from brain disorders and may not have time to wait for expensive and lengthy clinical trials with very slim chance of success,” says the senior author. 

“I believe testing drugs on patient cells before enrolling clinical trials will be a game-changer for medical discoveries, but we need to get the model right. This study takes us closer to this goal.”

“The new substrate applied to petri dishes maintains complex electrical connections between neurons, allowing us to model the patient’s brain more accurately and  determine the best treatment with more certainty,” says the first author.