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LCSB scientist receives Lush Young Researcher Prize

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Published on Tuesday, 14 November 2017

For the development and future application of a three-dimensional cell culture model of the human midbrain, Anna Monzel, a PhD student at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg, recently received one of this year’s Young Researcher Prizes from the British cosmetics company Lush. Lush awards this prize to young researchers who are working to eliminate animal testing from the future of research and industry. Monzel’s model, for example, can help to achieve this in brain research. She developed the cell culture model as part of her doctoral thesis in the Developmental and Cellular Biology Group of Prof. Dr. Jens Schwamborn.


Developing a brain organoid

The model is a miniature artificial tissue culture, or organoid, derived from human skin cells. In a complex process, the skin cells are first used to produce so-called induced pluripotent stem cells. These, in turn, can be converted into any type of cell in the human body. Under special growth conditions, Anna Monzel cultivated brain cells from these stem cells and, in another elaborate process, grew them into three-dimensional tissue cultures with a brain-like structure. Subsequent experiments then demonstrated the functionality of these organoid structures.


Reducing the amount of animal testing

By adopting this 3D model, there are many animal tests that no longer have to be performed in Schwamborn’s group. At the same time, the organoids expand the possibilities of research into neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. “The tissue cultures are of human origin. So, for our research questions, we believe the experimental data to be more comparable to what’s happening in the patient than would be the case for data obtained from experiments on mice or rats,” Monzel stresses. Also, these three-dimensional structures exhibit characteristics that cannot be observed in classical flat cell cultures. The artificial organoids contain, for example, various cell types that are also found in the human midbrain. On top of that, just like in the brain, the cells connect together into a network, exchange signals, and produce typical metabolic products of the active midbrain.

The researchers of Schwamborn’s LCSB group have already used the 3D cultures in several projects – for example to explain the mechanisms that lead to Parkinson’s disease, to study the effects of environmental influences on the onset of the disease, and to identify new drugs for treating the disease. Furthermore, the patent for producing these cell cultures has already been licenced by biotech company Braingineering Technologies SARL, which is now offering this model commercially.


The Developmental and Cellular Biology Groupand its collaboration partners published their results in the journal Stem Cell Reports:
"Derivation of human midbrain-specific organoids from neuroepithelial stem cells"
Anna S. Monzel, Lisa M Smits, Kathrin Hemmer, Siham Hachi, Edinson Lucumi Moreno, Thea van Welled, Javier Jarazo, Jonas Walter, Inga Brüggemann, Ibrahim Boussaad, Emanuel Berger, Ronan M.T. Fleming, Silvia Bolognan, Jens C. Schwamborn.
(DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2017.03.010)

The project was funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) in the scope of the programmes CORE and AFR, by the University of Luxembourg, by JPND Research, and by the European Union in the scope of the H2020 project SysMedPD.


To know more about the Lush Prize 2017.