From time to time, we'll profile a Department of Neurology lab and the important work it's doing in the field. Today we're highlighting the work of Dr. Ranmal Samarasinghe and his team...
Graduate School: University of Pittsburgh
Postdoc: University of Pittsburgh
My lab is interested in understanding how the brain develops, starting from a few stem cells into a complex organ with billions of interacting cells, and how certain genetic mutations can perturb this process and result in neurological diseases. To study this, we focus on 3D brain-like structures that we can grow in a dish, called human brain organoids. These brain organoids are made from human stem cells, including from the stem cells of patients with specific genetic disorders. We generate human brain organoids from these patient stem cells and use the organoids to study how brain cells are formed, how they interact, and the kind of brainwaves (electrical activity) they generate. We are using this approach to study how genetic mutations can affect the part of the brain called the hippocampus, where many aspects of learning and memory occur. We are also using brain organoids to study how genetic mutations can result in epilepsy and autism.
The goal of our lab is to learn how brain development goes awry because of certain genetic conditions. We are largely focused on genes that are risk factors for autism and epilepsy, although more recently we have started some collaborative work on genes that result in memory loss and Alzheimer's-like dementia. We hope to use the knowledge we gain from the organoids to develop novel drugs and other therapies for the otherwise incurable neurological disorders that we are studying.
I have a wonderful, tightknit, and very smart team working in the lab. They help me with all aspects of the work from the mundane like ordering supplies to skilled tasks like generating brain organoids from stem cells, to complex tasks like analyzing and interpreting the data. My team is essential for progressing the science in my lab.