New Miniature Brain Could Help Solve the Mysteries of Rare Conditions and Diseases
Scientists at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology have achieved an outstanding breakthrough, as their venture of growing miniature human brains in a laboratory has been a success.
Scientists have managed to recreate some of the very first phases of the brain’s development in a laboratory, in an attempt to enhance their knowledge of neurological conditions.
The analysis was initially reviewed in the Journal Nature, and it has been widely used by neuroscientists in comprehensive researches on rare human conditions and diseases.
Researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences have outlined the discoveries as “astounding” and “fascinating”.
Dr Juergen Knoblich, one of the scientists involved in the remarkable research, noted “what our organoids are good for is to model development of the brain and to study anything that causes a defect in development.”
“Ultimately we would like to move towards more common disorders like schizophrenia or autism. They typically manifest themselves only in adults, but it has been shown that the underlying defects occur during the development of the brain,” he added.
The scientific team approached the phase of developing the neuroectoderm, the embryo component that develops into the brain and spinal cord, through the use of either embryonic stem cells or adult skin cells. Brain cells such as the cerebral cortex, the retina, and an early hippocampus managed to grow and divide themselves into distinct areas of the brain. The cells are directly responsible for the full development of an adult brain and its memory functions.
According to researchers, the final stage of their tremendous experiment corresponds to the brain development in a nine-week old foetus. In this phase, the brain structures evolved are not yet capable of cognitive thinking.
The miniature brain is not the foremost achievement of this kind in the scientific field. Scientists have been able to generate functional brain cells in a research laboratory in the past, yet this is the furthest they have ever come to developing an operational human brain.
Dr Martin Coath, from the cognition institute at Plymouth University, expressed her gratitude towards the breakthrough achieved by the Austrian scientists: “Any technique that gives us ‘something like a brain’ that we can modify, work on, and watch as it develops, just has to be exciting.”
“If the authors are right – that their ‘brain in a bottle’ develops in ways that mimic the human brain development – then the potential for studying developmental diseases is clear. But the applicability to other types of disease is not so clear – but it has potential.”
“Testing drugs is, also, much more problematic. Most drugs that affect the brain act on things like mood, perception, control of your body, pain, and a whole bunch of other things. This brain-like-tissue has no trouble with any of these things yet.”