The human brain is highly complex and very difficult to study, which is the primary reason which has slowed down the process of drug development for mental disorders. In addition, the brain cannot be biopsied by doctors or researchers like any other organ can be.
Mental disorders have multiple causes including genetic, biological and environmental factors and at this time point, we are a long way in finding out the interaction between them. An emerging science, particularly in the area of mental illness, is epigenetics which describes the way environmental factors play a role in determining which genes are expressed and note expressed.
When it comes to mental illnesses there is no magic bullet, the treatment, and its effectiveness varies from patient to patient. Also as the diagnosis is more or less based on primarily the symptoms with no tests which can firmly confirm the diagnosis has made things difficult.
Understanding Brain disorders through stem cell (IPSC) technology
Excerpts are taken from https://about.hindawi.com/
Our ability to study disease affecting the human brain has been helped by the development of iPSC/stem cell technology.
What is IPSC technology?
First described in 2006, and awarded the Nobel Prize in 2012, it is an ability to take an easily accessible cell type, such as skin cells, and reset them to an unspecialized state – i.e. turn them into stem cells. Because stem cells have the potential to become any of the cell types of the human body, a small bit of skin from a person who consents to participate in research, use this to generate that persons stem cells, and subsequently convert those stem cells into neurons. This means we have “brain in a dish” models, to understand what causes brain cells to become dysfunctional and eventually die in any particular disease.
The mammalian brain is a very complex organ containing an estimated 200 billion cells in humans. Therefore, studying human brain development has become very challenging given all the data that are available from different approaches, notably genetic studies.
Recent pluripotent stem cell methods have given rise to the possibility of modeling neurodevelopmental diseases associated with genetic defects. Fibroblasts/skin cells from patients have been reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells to derive appropriate neuronal lineages. They specifically include different subtypes of cortical neurons that are at the core of human-specific cognitive abilities. The use of neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) has led to deciphering convergent and pleiotropic neuronal synaptic phenotypes found in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their associated syndromes. In addition to these initial studies, remarkable progress has been made in the field of stem cells, with the major objective of reproducing the in vivo maturation steps of human neurons. Recently, several studies have demonstrated the ability of human progenitors to respond to guidance cues and signals in vivo that can direct neurons to their appropriate sites of differentiation where they become fully mature neurons.