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Human-derived mini-brain close to completion

Researchers at the University of Helsinki are growing a human-derived mini-brain from stem cells, containing all of the most important cell types of the human brain.

The mini-brain can be used to design personalized therapies for brain diseases. The project has received more than €600,000 support from Business Finland.

The new Living Human Brain

The scientists have investigated a new kind of technical solution to make it possible to test drugs in models that are a better match to humans. The new Living Human Brain (LHB) solution enables the culturing of human-derived brain organoids, also known as mini-brains, from the cells of any individual.

In practice, this technical solution makes it possible to study drugs, before moving on to expensive clinical trials, on a platform that models the human brain. Furthermore, the solution is expected to offer significant help in the medicinal treatment of brain diseases. According to Professor Jari Koistinaho, who heads the research group, hospitals could utilise the technique in personalised therapies, as it enables the creation of patient-specific mini-brains.

Incorporates all key cell types found in the human brain

For the first time, the solution incorporates all key cell types found in the human brain, including nerve cells, glial cells, cells of the immune system and cells that form blood vessels.

“LHB is brain tissue derived entirely from humans, which can be grown in a culture dish in a laboratory and which can be used to model the physiology of anyone’s brain. As raw material, we use human cells, which can be collected, for example, from a blood sample or skin. To begin with, we turn the cells into stem cells, after which we use them to grow mini-brains,” Koistinaho says. “The mini-brain can be also transplanted into living rodent brain, where it maturates further and allow high resolutions research on human brain as part of a living mammalian organism,” Koistinaho adds.

Help for treating brain diseases

The new solution helps to improve the therapeutic process of brain diseases, while reducing costs.

“The LHB solution can accelerate the identification of suitable personalised drug therapies for individual patients as much as tenfold,” says Koistinaho.

Alleviating the burden of costs in drug development is another great opportunity. With the help of the new LHB solution, costs could be significantly reduced by testing drug candidates in human-derived brain tissue already at the preclinical stage alongside animal testing. “Among other things, our solution can reduce the number of unnecessary clinical trials by roughly 30%”, Koistinaho notes.

Over the course of the project, the research group will survey various opportunities to commercialise LHB.

“According to our current estimate, the market potential of LHB is over €600 million through automated production, licensing the solution, and business partnerships,” says Elina Pörsti, MSc, MBA, who is responsible for the project’s commercialisation.

Photo: iStock