Petri Dish Breakthrough May Hasten Search for Treatments and a Cure

They’re calling it “Alzheimer’s in a dish.” Lead researcher Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and member of the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Scientific Advisory Board, on a suggestion from colleague Doo Yeon Kim, and his team have pioneered the growth of human neurons (brain cells) in a petri dish, where Alzheimer’s disease treatments can be studied much more quickly than ever before. That’s because the human neurons actually develop the telltale plaques and tangles that characterize Alzheimer’s when genes that code for Alzheimer’s disease are introduced, and they do so in a matter of weeks.

The research was published in the October 12, 2014 issue of Nature.

Using this new technique of growing brain cells in a petri dish, researchers will now be able to study treatments much more quickly than they could before, when only mouse brain models were available. “A lot of times when we are coming up with hypotheses for studying this disease, the verification of these hypotheses involves mouse work that can take a year, a year and a half, which is how long it takes the mouse model to develop the disease,” says Dr. Jean-Pierre Roussarie, a Senior Research Associate in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Greengard at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research at The Rockefeller University in New York. “This brain cell culture will reduce the delay of waiting for that to happen, so we can study much more in a much shorter period of time.”