Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Researchers at Stanford University have found that lab-grown astrocytes, star-shaped brain cells, develop at the same rate as human astrocyte cells in the body.
The team from Stanford, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, used 3D structures to analyze the development of astrocytes, a relatively overlooked cell in the brain.
"This work addresses a significant gap in human brain research by providing an invaluable technique to investigate the role of astrocytes in both normal development and disease," Jill Morris, the institute's program director, said in a news release.
A 2015 study showed a method for taking adult skin cells, converting them to induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPSCs, and growing them as 3-D clusters of brain cells known as human cortical spheroids, or hCSs. These cells then develop into astrocytes, neurons and other brain cells.
The current study compared astrocytes from hCSs to ones found in tissue from a developing and adult human brain. The hCSs were grown in the lab for 20 months.
"The hCS system makes it possible to replay astrocyte development from any patient," Dr. Ben Barres, professor of neurobiology at Stanford, said. "That's huge. There's no other way one could ever do that without this method."
Researchers found that hCS-grown astrocytes develop at the same rate as astrocytes found in the human brain. Astrocytes from hCSs less than six months old multiplied faster and acted very similar to astrocytes found in babies in the womb.
However, hCSs are only used as a model and do not have many features of real human brains, according to researchers.
"Since astrocytes make up a greater proportion of brain cells in humans than in other species, it may reflect a greater need for astrocytes in normal human brain function, with more significant consequences when they don't work correctly," David Panchision, program director at the National Institute of Mental Health, said.