When cell growth during embryonic development is derailed, cells can start growing uncontrollably and form a tumor. That’s also the case in childhood brain tumors, the research interest of dr. Benedetta Artegiani. ‘At a molecular level, human brain development is still a mystery. In my group, we’re looking for previously unknown genes involved in this process. Once you understand the mechanism of brain development, you can start to understand how and why childhood brain tumors can arise.’
In previous research, Artegiani discovered a group of genes that could be important for brain development. ‘Most of these genes are as yet unexplored,’ she says. ‘In our new NWO-project, we plan to use gene-editing techniques on human brain organoids, 3D mini-organs grown from human brain tissue in the lab, to find out the function of each of these genes.’ The team plans to select the genes that are most likely to play a key role in human brain development, and to analyze their effect by switching them off at various stages in development. ‘This will give us an insight into the molecular changes in developing brain cells controlled by each of these genes,’ Artegiani explains.
The Dutch Research Council grant will fund a four-year project in Artegiani’s research group. Her project was one of 22 that were granted funding from the NWO Open Competition Domain Science – M, a program that supports curiosity-driven, fundamental research. Artegiani: ‘Understanding the underlying biology of childhood cancer is key to improving treatment and discovering new therapies. By shedding light onto the mysterious black box of human brain development, we will also pave the way for a better understanding of what goes wrong in children who develop a brain tumor very early in life.’