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Stem Cells and Brain


Mackenzie Andrews and Jasmine Vu

Historical Background
● Neural engineering is a new field
● 2008: mouse embryonic stem cells
manipulated into producing “waves” of
● 2012: primitive eye structures and retinas
formed from embryonic stem cells
Background on Stem Cells
● Unspecialized cells that have the ability to
become tissue or organ specific cells
● Two types of stem cells worked with:
○ embryonic stem cells
○ somatic/ adult stem cells
● Have unique regenerative abilities
● Can divide and renew themselves for long
periods of time
Background on Stem Cells
Background on Stem Cells
Stem Cell Video
● Our body has stem
cells naturally

● Skin, bone marrow,

blood, intestine

● Other body stem cells

are pluri- or multipotent
and don’t generate as

● Start at 5:40
Brain Basics
● Structure
○ Forebrain (large and complex)
■ Cerebrum - intelligence, memory, personality,
emotion, speech, and ability to feel/move

○ Midbrain
■ Communicates with spinal cord

○ Hindbrain
■ Cerebellum - balance, movement,
and coordination
■ Involuntary functions
Brain Basics Continued

● Tissue:
○ Neurons and axons
■ communication and processing
○ Neuroglia
■ Support and protect neurons

○ Gray matter
■ nerve connections and processing
○ White matter
■ connect gray matter regions
■ information “highway”
Current Research Overview
● How well can we grow brain tissue?

● How do we go from stem cells to brain cells?

● Current applications?
Current Research: Tufts University
● Structure:
○ Silk scaffold
○ Neurons derived from rats
○ Axons made of gel

● Clumps of neurons lasted over 2 months

○ Compare to less than 24 hours

● Grey matter and white matter

● Used for research on human response to

Green: Neuronal tissue in gel
Current Research: RIKEN Center for
Developmental Biology in Japan
● Structure:
○ Embryonic stem cells
○ Growth factors added in series

● Differentiation
○ 3 weeks
■ midbrain & hindbrain
■ precursors to cerebellum -->
○ 4 weeks
■ top-bottom Purkinje Cell markers (motor movement)
■ deep cerebellar projections (cell migration)
○ 15 weeks 1st
■ rudimentary electrophysiological function
■ cell migration Trimester!
Current Research: Institute of Molecular
Biotechnology in Vienna
● Structure
○ Stem cells from human skin
○ Gel resembling connective tissues
○ Spinning bath to infuse with nutrients
and oxygen
○ 3-4 millimeters after 10 months
(no blood vessels)

● Brains of fetus in 9th week of development

● Modeled microcephaly
Current Research: Institute of Molecular
Biotechnology in Vienna
● mini-brains
grown from
stem cells
Ethical issues at different phases of stem cell research
Phase of research Ethical issues

Donation of biological materials Informed and voluntary consent

Research with hESCs Destruction of embryos

Creation of embryos specifically for research purposes

1. Payment to oocyte donors

2. Medical risks of oocyte retrieval

3. Protecting reproductive interests of women in infertility treatment

Use of stem cell lines derived at another institution Conflicting legal and ethical standards

Stem cell clinical trials Risks and benefits of experimental intervention

Informed consent

● Specific neurons need to be generated
● Neurons need to be able to connect to each
other in specific ways
● Sensory input needed for functional circuits
to form
Future Work/Research
● Growing full sized human brain- unlikely
● Growing brain structures to replace poorly
functioning ones in humans
● Injecting stem cells directly into patient and
let the cells organize themselves
Pathway to industry

● Bioengineering
● Neurobiology
● Developmental Biology
● Biochemistry
● Microbiology
● Biomedical Sciences