Jens Schwamborn: Brain organoids are optimal for research and testing purposes
In 2019, Prof. Jens Schwamborn founded the company OrganoTherapeutics together with Javier Jarazo as a spin-off of the University of Luxembourg. The goal of the company is to develop brain organoids on which active ingredients for drugs can be tested and research into diseases can be carried out. Jens Schwamborn is currently using his mini-brains to conduct research on SARS-CoV2, the coronavirus. What is outstanding about this research model is that it helps to reduce the amount of animal testing.
– What are brain organoids?
– How can this research model be used?
– Why are animal experiments necessary at all?
– How can the mini brain model help reduce the amount of animal testing?
WHAT ARE BRAIN ORGANOIDS?
Brain organoids are small three-mineral cell cultures that Jens Schwamborn and his team grow from human stem cells. Their research is primarily focused on Parkinson’s disease, and the skin cells that are initially taken to generate stem cells come from patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Ultimately, the mini-brains grown in this way carry the genetic characteristics of Parkinson’s disease. But the brain organoids should not be thought of as fully developed human brains, explains Jens Schwamborn. They are minimal components of the brain that are relevant for research.
HOW CAN THIS RESEARCH MODEL BE USED?
The brain organoids provide the perfect environment for researching neurological diseases and testing active substances. Research can be conducted directly on the disease and the sites it affects, and active substances can be introduced and tested in a targeted manner without having to test human subjects on a drug. For Jens Schwamborn, this shows that this model represents a research method of the future – not least, other diseases besides Parkinson’s can also be researched and active substances tested in this way by using the skin cells of people suffering from other diseases instead of those of Parkinson’s patients to cultivate stem cells. Currently, this is already being done with skin cells from healthy people, which Jens Schwamborn is infecting with SARS-CoV2 in cooperation with other institutes after they have been further developed into brain organoids, in order to gain new insights into the coronavirus and to find active substances against it.
WHY ARE ANIMAL EXPERIMENTS NECESSARY AT ALL?
Jens Schwamborn and his scientific colleagues are repeatedly faced with a dilemma in their work: the human brain is an extremely complex structure, and understanding and being able to comprehend neurological disorders in it is a challenge simply because, for ethical reasons, it is hardly possible to conduct research directly at these spots. Therefore, animal experiments are used as a substitute. However, these do not provide an optimal research environment because animal brains do not possess all the key features that make up a human brain. The situation in them is therefore different from that in the human brain, and a laboratory model is needed that can more accurately represent the situation of the human brain, says Jens Schwamborn.
How can the mini-brain model help reduce the amount of animal testing?
The brain organoids grown in vitro are three-dimensional structures that resemble the human brain in some aspects. In their behavior, too, they are a replica of those cells in the actual human brain and can even send and process signals, Jens Schwamborn reports.
Tests and experiments in the animal model can produce a different result than if they had taken place in the brain of a human being. Thus, active substances and drugs that have been found can often turn out to be unsuitable for humans after all if they are based on animal experiments. The probability that the active ingredients obtained through research on the mini-brains will also work in the human organism may be greater.
OrganoTherapeutics use cutting-edge human-specific mini-brains for the discovery and development of effective drug candidates targeting Parkinson”s disease. We screen new molecules on our proprietary human-specific minibrains which represent a model mimicking faithfully the human Parkinson”s disease pathology. OrganoTherapeutics aims at developing new drug candidates against Parkinson”s disease which are tested in state-of-the art 3D patient models. OrganoTherapeutics has developed first own proprietary drug candidates and has access to attractive libraries for further screening.