Published: 16-02-2018 09:02 | Updated: 06-05-2022 17:09

New cell model could lead to treatments for neurological diseases

Researchers from Karolinska Institutet and KTH Royal Institute of Technology have developed a new cell model for human brain helper cells known as astrocytes. The model could potentially be used in large-scale drug screening in the search for treatments for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The research is published in the scientific journal Stem Cell Reports.

Astrocytes are star shaped cells that are found in the brain and spine and were long thought to be the “glue” that binds nerve cells. However, recent advances show that they are in fact responsible for complex regulation of a variety of critical brain functions. They have also proven to be central to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. But for research, these cells prove problematic.

“Human astrocytes are significantly more complex than those found in mice, for example, mice do not develop the same brain diseases as humans. We therefore need better ways to study this cell type”, says Anna Falk, associate professor at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neuroscience.

Nobel Prize-winning technology

Together with Anna Herland at KTH and researchers at AstraZeneca, Anna Falk developed a new cell model for human astrocytes. Drawing on Nobel Prize-winning technology, the researchers reprogrammed human skin cells to create induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, which were then guided with growth factors to become astrocytes.

Beginning with stem cells, researchers can produce an infinite number of astrocytes, which is important for the large-scale use within the pharmaceutical industry.

“The historically high statistics of clinical failures in developing drugs against neurological diseases have now made drug companies increasingly interested in improved cell models in which human cells are used,” says Anna Herland, assistant senior lecturer at the Department of Micro and Nanosystems at KTH. “Our work has been focused on development of a cell model that follows human embryonic development of astrocytes.”

Shows wider functionality

Compared with cell models used in the pharmaceutical industry today, Falk and Herland’s model shows wider functionality. A pilot drug screening with a few substances showed that the model has the potential to identify new candidates which can go into drug development for neurological diseases.

"Our model of human astrocytes is an important step forward in order to understand and attack human neurological diseases where astrocytes have an important role,” says Anna Herland. “With this model, we can begin to study how astrocytes develop and receive their functional diversity during embryonic development”.

The research was supported by the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, Vinnova, the European Commission, the Wallenberg Foundations, and the Swedish Knowledge Foundation.

This news article is based on a press release from KTH.


”Human iPS-derived astroglia from a stable neural precursor state show improved functionality compared to conventional astrocytic models”
Lundin Anders, Delsing Louise, Clausen Maryam, Ricchiuto Piero, Sanchez José, Sabirsh Alan, Mei Ding, Synnergren Jane, Zetterberg Henrik, Brolén Gabriella, Hicks Ryan, Herland Anna, Falk Anna
Stem Cell Reports, online 15 February 2018, doi: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2018.01.021