Meet The Neurosphere
A neurosphere is a system composed of free-floating clusters of neural stem cells. Because stem cells cannot be studied in vivo, neurospheres provide a method of investigating neural precursor cells in vitro. To grow a neurosphere, putative neural stem cells are suspended in a medium lacking adherent substrates but containing necessary growth factors, like epidermal growth factor and fibroblast growth factor. This allows the neural cells to form characteristic 3D spheres.
The clinical applications of neurospheres are still in their infancy, but they have the potential to help treat many diseases. Transplanted neural stem cells are not only able to cross the blood-brain barrier and integrate themselves into the host’s brain without disrupting normal function - they are also incredibly versatile, and have been shown to proliferate and differentiate in various other tissues of the body when transplanted. Researchers are currently exploring the use of neural stem cells obtained from neurospheres to aid in the growth of inner ear neurons and hair cells; the hope is that these cells may be able to restore auditory function in hearing-impaired patients.
The image above is of a neurosphere from Vanderbilt University’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.