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2019 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AARF-D)

Generation of Human Cerebral Organoids to Model Alzheimer’s Disease

Can laboratory-grown group of cells that act like human brain tissue help better understand Alzheimer’s?

Luz Karina Cuanalo Contreras, Ph.D.
University of Texas Healthy Science Center
Houston, TX - United States


There are many animal models available to study Alzheimer’s. However, research animals do not always develop the same Alzheimer’s characteristics observed in humans. Similarly, cells growing in flat laboratory dishes can help researchers understand aspects of Alzheimer’s, but they cannot fully represent a human brain affected by Alzheimer’s. Models are a valuable tool in both helping understand disease and identifying possible treatments. Novel laboratory technologies are enabling researchers to develop new models to study a variety of diseases. These include growing three-dimensional, mini versions of human tissues, and of 100% human origin, making them interesting candidates to recapitulate disease processes in the laboratory.

Research Plan

Dr. Karina Cuanola-Contreras and colleagues will collect skin stem cells from cognitively unimpaired people and people with Alzheimer’s. The researchers plan to reprogram them into brain cells, and grow them as a 3-dimensional model in a laboratory dish.  Dr. Contreras will study the cells over several months as they form and act like human brain tissue. The researchers expect that these tissue grown from cells taken from people with Alzheimer’s will show important signs of the disease, including changes in brain cell connections, beta-amyloid plaques, and tau tangles.


This project could create a new, 3-dimensional experimental model to study Alzheimer’s. If successful, the study results could help scientists develop personalized medicine, and more fully understand brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s.

This project was made possible by the North Central Texas Chapter

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