Brain Center Rudolf Magnus of the UMC Utrecht , the UMC Utrecht MIND facility, Utrecht University and Danone Nutricia Research are starting a joint study using brain organoids to investigate the influence of nutrition on the developing brain. Brain organoids can provide an important alternative for animal studies.

Recent technological advances have made it possible to grow embryonic ‘mini brains’ from stem cells derived from human skin cells in the laboratory. As a proof-of-principle, we will study the role of nutrition in the development and function of these brain organoids and the role of epigenetics herein. This way, we aim to improve our understanding of recent findings of studies in which the growth and function of brains were influenced by specific nutrients in animal models.
 
The study focuses on the recently discovered potential to downregulate the mTOR pathway by using a diet enriched for the amino acids histidine, lysine, threonine. The mTOR pathway is a central pathway in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders and under influence of early nutritional state.
 
Several studies suggest an important role of the mTOR pathway in the changes of hippocampal function found in offspring of rats with intra uterine growth restriction or maternal stress. mTor function has been linked to autism, and specifically alterations in dendritic spine formation. This study contributes to our understanding of the impact of nutrition on brain development, and whether this can play a role in treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as autism.
 
Collaboration
The work will be conducted at the MIND facility of the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus in collaboration with Danone Nutricia Research. The project is driven by a clinical research question and is the result of a collaborative interest in the role of nutrition in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism.

The project will be guided by a steering committee from all the participants. Danone Nutricia Research will provide scientific input as well as growth media that are costly and essential for the project. All partners share an interest in brain organoid technology as a means to advance the study of human brain disease and a means to reduce and replace animal testing.

The Department of Pharmacology University Utrecht, Faculty of Science & Faculty of Veterinary Medicine was instrumental in past studies of mTOR activity modification with nutrition. The collaboration provides an integration of interest from both sides as well as bundles expertise on nutrition with expertise in the use of organoid technology integrated in a clinical treatment perspective.

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