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Miniature brains grown in test tubes – a new path for neuroscience?

September 10, 2013

Scientists have grown miniature human brains in test tubes, creating a “tool” that will allow them to watch how the organs develop in the womb and, they hope, increase their understanding of neurological and mental problems.

Just a few millimetres across, the “cerebral organoids” are built up of layers of brain cells with defined regions that resemble those seen in immature, embryonic brains.

The scientists say the organoids will be useful for biologists who want to analyse how conditions such as schizophrenia or autism occur in the brain. Though these are usually diagnosed in older people some of the underlying defects occur during the brain’s early development.

Human brain ‘organoid’ grown from human pluripotent stem cells. This is a cross-section of the entire organoid showing development of different brain regions. All cells are in blue, neural stem cells in red, and neurons in green. Photograph: Madeline A Lancaster.

The organoids are also expected to be useful in the development and testing of drugs. At present this is done using laboratory animals or isolated human cells; the new organoids could allow pharmacologists to test drugs in more human-like settings.

Scientists have previously made models of other human organs in the lab, including eyes, pituitary glands and livers.

In the latest work researchers at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna started with stem cells and grew them into brain cells in a nourishing gel-like matrix that recreated conditions similar to those inside the human womb. After several months the cells had formed spheres measuring about 3-4mm in diameter.

Text by Alok Jha, science correspondent at The Guardian. Continue article THERE

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