With limited skills, equipment and funding resources, stem cell based organoid research is underutilised in Africa. This is despite its evident value for disease modelling and drug development particularly with complex organs like the brain.
In our group we use stem cells organoids to better understand mammalian development and model disease pathology.
African specific brain organoids to model neurological disease
The human brain develops through a dynamic, protracted process beginning during gestation and continuing through adolescence to form a highly complex organ with an array of diverse cell types with distinct morphologies and functions. Due to tissue inaccessibility and ethical considerations much of our understanding of brain development has come from various model systems all with significant shortcomings that limit their potential and are particularly exacerbated in disease modelling
There is thus an urgent need for a better human model to aid in studies into a host of neurological diseases in an African context. The emergence of brain organoids, 3D in vitro aggregates of human cerebral tissue derived from human pluripotent stem cells that can model the human foetal brain microenvironment has generated much interest for their ability to overcome the limitations of other neuronal models and their potential to be the definitive system within which to study brain development and disorder.
However, brain organoids have never been developed from cells of an African origin despite the immense genetic diversity within African populations, and the significant role this can play in disease progression and treatment responses. The Goolam lab is focussing on establishing the very first African brain organoids to explore their potential to study neurological disease in an African context.
In vitro model system to study embryo implantation and maternal-foetal interactions
Embryonic development progresses through several cell fate decisions as well as three-dimensional spatial transformations during implantation. It is of fundamental importance to understand how these embryonic developmental processes occur, are co-ordinated, and are regulated as well as the role of the surrounding maternal tissue to support and aid in embryonic development. However, the key events of embryonic development occur within the mother making them extremely complex to study.
The Goolam lab uses stem cells to model the events of early embryonic development in vitro. This allows us to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern lineage specification, developmental potential and tissue morphogenesis while also offering novel insights on the pathological causes of embryonic lethality and implantation failure.