Stem cell-derived organoids have recently become a popular stream of research owing to the various insights they provide. Not only can they be used to understand organ development in the body, these structures are also useful to test the safety and efficacy of new drugs before companies begin human trials.
Recently, an interesting development occurred when a research team from Germany was studying brain organoids. The organoids grew a pair of rudimentary eyes.
These rudimentary structures are known as “optic cups”. These are embryonic precursors to the retina i.e. the part of the eye that is sensitive to light.
While previous researches have been able to grow optic cups directly from stem cells, it is the first time they have grown integrated with brain organoids. This was actually the study’s goal: to understand the relationship between the brain and the eyes during embryonic growth.
“Our work highlights the remarkable ability of brain organoids to generate primitive sensory structures that are light sensitive and harbor cell types similar to those found in the body,” says Jay Gopalakrishnan, a neuroscientist at the University Hospital in Dusseldorf and corresponding author of the study. “These organoids can help to study brain-eye interactions during embryo development, model congenital retinal disorders, and generate patient-specific retinal cell types for personalized drug testing and transplantation therapies.”
How to grow rudimentary eyes
In order to induce their brain organoids into formic optic cups, the researchers supplied them with retinol acetate. Within 30 days, the optic cups began to appear and only took 50 days to mature.
Amazingly, these rudimentary structures contained different types of retinal cells that were organized into functioning neural networks that were light-sensitive! According to Gopalakrishnan, such an advanced connection between the brain and the eyes has “never before been shown in an in vitro system”.
The rudimentary eyes also contained corneal and lens tissue.
Furthermore, the scientists repeated the induction process on 314 brain organoids with a 72% success rate. This showed that the first experiment was indeed reproducible and not just an isolated incident.
The research team now looks forward to using these optic cups to delve deeper into the causes of retinal disorders.
Cell Stem Cell