Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Mental Health Week Brain Stem
22 August 2013

Brain Stem

If scientists could compare brain cells from patients with mental health problems with those from healthy people it could help in deciphering what’s gone wrong. But wouldn’t that necessitate a highly invasive brain biopsy? Thanks to recent advances in cell culture, researchers can now take cells from easily accessible areas like skin and change them into stem cells – cells that have the potential to become many other types of cells. Scientists from the UK and Germany collaborated to develop methods of growing brain cells from stem cells. The cells they've grown in a culture dish (pictured above) look the same – and have identical proteins (here tagged with fluorescent colours) – as adult brain cells. Importantly, these cells spontaneously form connections between each other (synapses) similar to those found in the nervous system. These methods pave the way for testing drug safety and screening to discover new medicines.

Written by Julie Webb

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