A group of Austrian researchers have grown miniature human brain in a lab dish, in an attempt to better understand neurological disorders and their triggering mechanisms. These artificially grown mini organs in the future may serve to illustrate how brains develop and function throughout a person’s life, and illustrate what happens when the brain is affected by such disorders as autism or schizophrenia.
This is the first time when a scientific experiment has actually managed to replicate a three-dimensional map of how the brain tissue develops. These organoids will help researchers create a complex biological model of how such rare and difficult to understand condition like microcephaly works. The study provides a promise of a major new tool for testing possible treatment for these major disorders.
Scientist Juergen Knoblich and his team used a set of embryonic stem cells to produce that particular part of an embryo which develops into a brain and neuroectoderm (or the spinal cord). The organoid was grown in a special spinning bioreactor using a bath of nutrient gels and oxygen.
The cells in the mini brain were able to grow and develop into separate areas of the brain: a cerebral cortex, a retina and an undeveloped hippocampus. Although this is a far from perfect result, the artificial brain matches the development of a nine week old fetus. The small tissues managed to reach a maximum size of 4 0.1 in after two months. Although they survived for about a year, the organoids did not grow any larger, as no blood supply was feeding the brain tissue and oxygen was unable to penetrate into the middle of the brain-like structure.
According to Dr. Juergen Knoblich: “These organoids will serve a project that aims to model the brain development and will eventually help us study anything that causes a defect in both functioning and development. But the ultimate scope of this research is to move towards common disorders like autism or schizophrenia and map a way in which these diseases function and how they can be properly treated.”
One of the good things about growing these mini lab brains is that new treatments could from now on be tested on actual brain tissue and replace rats and mice in drug research.
[Image via NBC News]