Steven A. Sloan, M.D., Ph.D.
Department of Human Genetics
“Using Human Brain Organoids to Unveil Neuron-Glial Interactions During Development”
Glia are the most abundant cell types in the mammalian nervous system. They are integral to normal brain physiology, yet we still understand very little about what functions they perform, how they develop, and how they are involved in disease. We understand even less about these cells in humans because of the lack of direct access to intact, functioning human brain tissue. Our lab is using pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived non-invasively from skin samples to generate brain cells in the lab. Because the brain is a 3D structure and studying cells growing on a plate does not recapitulate its complexity, we are using human iPSCs to generate functional 3D structures that are patterned to mirror specific regions of the human brain. We can culture these 'brains-in-a-dish' for long periods of time to ask how normal brain development is occurring in a human system. Additionally, this method allows us to ask questions about how neurons and glia interact with each other in both healthy and diseased contexts, and to manipulate specific variables of brain development in an otherwise complex developmental system.