April 27, 2017
Scientists confirm that they have grown the first working ‘mini-brains’ in a dish which could provide future treatments for autism and epilepsy.The lab-grown organs have their own brain cells, formed into circuits similar to those of a two-month-old baby in the womb. Repots indicate that is the first time a human forebrain has been seen in action outside the body.
Despite ones position on these matters, the creation is scientifically thrilling nonetheless. The Daily Mail reports that scientists hope to use the mini-brains to watch in real time the triggers for epilepsy, when brain cells become hyperactive, and autism, where they are thought to form bad connections. Scientists have grown the first working ‘mini-brains’ in a dish which could provide future treatments for autism and epilepsy.
The brains in a dish are the latest advance for stem cell science. Human skin cells are transformed into pluripotent stem cells, capable of becoming any part of the body, using four genes in a petri dish. The ‘culture’, or nutrient-rich broth they are grown in, is then altered to determine which type of cell they will become – in this case brain cells, or neurons.
The result is a 60-day old forebrain like a baby’s in the womb, although more scrambled in its connections. It includes the cerebral cortex, the most highly evolved ‘thinking’ and decision-making part of the brain.
It could pave the way for drugs to treat these conditions, as well as schizophrenia. It is also the next step towards a real-life Frankenstein, suggesting scientists may one day be able to grow an entire human body in the laboratory. Researchers at Stanford University grew two forebrain circuits, measuring only a sixteenth of an inch across, using only human skin cells.Then scientists at Harvard University went a step further, growing a mini-organ for more than nine months to create a human retina – the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye.
Dr Selina Wray, Alzheimer’s Research UK senior research fellow at UCL Institute of Neurology, said: ‘This technology will provide researchers with insights into brain development and disease which have not previously been possible.’
Dr Sergiu Pasca, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said:
‘We’ve never been able to recapitulate these human-brain developmental events in a dish before.
Dr Francois Guillemot, group leader and head of division of molecular neurobiology at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said the ‘self-organising’ ability of stem cells to become brain cells was ‘remarkable’.
He said: ‘I would not call these studies game-changers because previous organoid papers had already hinted at this. However they represent large steps forward. This is after all the first time that human neural circuits can be observed in action.’
Back in 2013 a similar scientific breakthrough made headlines. That research however, seems to have been a long way from the working “mini brains” scientists at Harvard University have just revealed.
The Daily Mail / TRUNEWS summary.
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