Focus-Science and Technology - - Discoveries -

The hu­man body con­tains hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent types of cell, with each typet play­ing a unique role in keep­ing the body’sb var­i­ous bi­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses run­ning smoothly. The way the cells or­gan­ise within or­gans helps them co­or­di­nate their func­tions.

“Cells aren’t lonely lit­tle au­toma­tons. TheyT com­mu­ni­cate through net­works to make group de­ci­sions,” ex­plained re­searcher Zev Gart­ner, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­si­tyU of Cal­i­for­nia, San Francisco (UCSF). “We can take any cell type we want and pro­gram just where it goes. We can pre­cise­lyp con­trol who’s talk­ing to whom and who’s touch­ingg whom at the ear­li­est stages. The cells then fol­low th­ese ini­tially pro­grammed spa­tial cues to in­ter­act, move around, and de­velop into tis­sues over time.”

Study­ing how the cells of com­plex tis­sues make de­ci­sions as groups is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult in liv­ing or­gan­isms, thanks partly to their in­nate com­plex­ity and partly to the as­so­ci­ated eth­i­cal is­sues. How­ever, “this tech­nique lets us pro­duce sim­ple com­po­nents of tis­sue in a dish that we can eas­ily study and ma­nip­u­late,” said fel­low team mem­ber and UCSF graduate stu­dent Michael Tod­hunter. “It lets us ask ques­tions about com­plex hu­man tis­sues with­out ac­tu­ally need­ing to do ex­per­i­ments on hu­mans.”

To cre­ate the organoids, the team fix tiny snip­pets of DNA onto the cells’ outer mem­branes. Th­ese act as a kind of molec­u­lar Vel­cro that al­lows one cell to stick to an­other, pro­vided it has com­ple­men­tary DNA. If the DNA se­quences don’t match, the cells don’t stick. Th­ese cells can then be built up in lay­ers to form com­plete organoids.

So far the team has cre­ated tis­sue that mim­ics veins, ar­ter­ies and mam­mary glands. Next,e, theyey planpa too use thee tech­niqueecque too in­ves­ti­gate the break­down of tis­sue struc­ture that is as­so­ci­ated with tu­mours which spread and threaten the life of the pa­tient. Ul­ti­mately, they hope to up­scale their tech­nique to build neu­ral cir­cuits and func­tional hu­man or­gans such as lungs and kid­neys.

“Build­ing func­tional mod­els of com­plex cel­lu­lar net­works such as those in the brain is one of the high­est chal­lenges you could as­pire to,” Tod­hunter said. “DPAC now makes that lofty goal seem much more achiev­able.”

It’s been good for:

Late nights and early starts are the per­fect recipe for catching colds, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia. They found that test sub­jects get­ting less than six hours sleep a night were 4.2 times more likely to catch the snif­fles than those sleep­ing for seven or more.

Zev Gart­ner of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Francisco, who led the DPAC re­search

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