Anna Falk: “We have a model of the brain”

Name: Anna Falk
Title: Researcher at Karolinska Institutet and Lund University.
Motivation: “Curiosity, understanding the role of stem cells in a healthy and a diseased brain.”

Anna Falk. Photo: Christopher Hunt

You can revert common skin cells to “induced pluripotent stem cells”. How?

“We start by cultivating cells from a bit of skin. We then supply these with four special reprogramming genes that mean the skin cells are induced to revert in their development until they become stem cells.”

What can the cells be used for?

“I use reverted skin cells from persons with diseases such as autism and schizophrenia in order to cultivate brain cells. We can then study how these patients' brain cells differ from brain cells from a healthy person. Thus we make models in petri dishes from patients with a brain disease, which we call “patients in a dish”. For example, we've made a 3D model of an Alzheimer’s brain. We then used a gel where we planted the nerve cells in a three-dimensional pattern where the behaviour of the nerve cells was similar to how they behave in the real brain. It's also possible to cultivate little spheres in a liquid medium. With the right nutrition, they develop into small brain-like balls called organoids. They can be used to study the development of both the healthy and the diseased brain.”

Are there other areas of use?

“It is also possible to cultivate brain cells for transplantation to patients with a neurological illness or brain damage. Those studies are now being conducted on laboratory animals.”

As told to: Fredrik Hedlund, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap no 4, 2015. 
The researcher's organizational affiliations has been updated in October 2021.