Brain in a dish: the therapeutic potential of stem cells and organoids

In the last few years researchers have discovered how to grow ‘organoids’ in a dish, tiny groups of cells that resemble organs. Despite being lentil-sized balls of cells that only live for a few months, they resemble features of our developing brains, livers, kidneys and more.

Dr Mirella Dottori, from the Centre for Neural Engineering and Department of Electrical Engineering, talks to Dr Andi Horvath for UpClose about the uses of these special cells in her research.

“Organoids are aggregates of cells that resemble a tissue or an organ. That’s why they’re called organoids. It’s like a little piece of tissue in a dish that resembles the organ of what we’re trying to mimic,” Dr Dottori says.

Dr Dottori aims to create human cellular models of neural development and neurodegenerative disease, in addition to developing stem cell therapies to promote regeneration within the nervous system. She is particularly interested in using organoids to help us better understand autism.

“Studying autism is very complex because it’s a spectrum disorder. Symptoms are very varied, but what we can do with organoid technology is go the other way. We can wind the clock back and see how their brain developed, or a component of it. From here we can start asking the questions. What is going wrong, and when?”

Using organoid technology, Dr Dottori can target the moment when nerves start acting in different ways and uncover fundamental mechanisms behind autism. 

Read the transcript or listen to the full podcast here: