Houston lab grows miniature brains to invent ways to heal brain injuries, diseases

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - Inside a research lab at Houston Methodist, they're growing hundreds of miniature brains from stem cells.

They are not using the brains in patients, but instead neuroscientist Dr. Robert Krencik and his team are using miniature lab-grown brains to better understand how the brain can repair after injuries.

“Our goal is to repair the nervous system that's been disrupted after an injury, such as brain and spinal cord injur,y and also after diseases such as genetic disorders and other neuropathies,” Krencik said.

According to Houston Methodist, Krencik's team is the first to engineer these 3D mini brains faster than before. They are growing them from stem cells in weeks instead of years, getting them under a microscope quicker and testing treatments on them.

“We can apply drugs to them, we can apply injuring disease models to try to understand how the neuron connections are disrupted in injury and disease, but also we can understand how they may promote regeneration after applying drugs or different techniques that we are studying within the neurosurgery clinic,” Krencik said.

The benefit to you is that within about five years, this team's goal is to find out how the brain heals and lead to better treatments for neurological problems.  

For example, Krencik’s lab is studying a star-shaped cell, called astrocytes, which are responsible for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Before, brain models were flat, in a petri dish. So, these 3D models hold up the integrity of the star-shaped cells to gain a better understanding of what those cells are doing.

“We're now using these cells to discover how these connections are lost during things such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and injuries,” Krencik said. “Now applying drugs to these mini brains trying to figure out ways in which we can promote these cells to recover the connections that are lost in these injuries.”

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