Human brains grown in-lab to study disease

We've seen less complex organs grown in-lab before, but now a miniature human brain has been nurtured using stem cells.

Researchers have grown a human brain in order to better understand neurological disease.

Stem cell research has been used to manufacture parts of the human body for analysis and experimentation in the hopes of advancing medical knowledge. While sometimes mired in controversy -- especially when linked to cloning -- being able to grow organs does give medical professionals an invaluable resource which doesn't rely on animals or donated bodies.

In a new development within the field, scientists from Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna have been able to cultivate a human brain from stem cells. Described in the journal Nature, the brain resembles that of a 9-week-old fetus. Although not fully grown, there are small sections of tissue which are distinct -- including the dorsal cortex, ventral forebrain and even an immature retina.

Being at the "in-vitro" stage, the brain has the beginning signs of cortical layers, although has not developed the full, complex six-layer cortex of a human adult.

According to PopSci, study coordinator Juergen Knoblich said "the parts are correctly organized, but not put together." Knoblich then described the brain as a "a car where you have an engine, you have the wheels -- but the engine is on the roof -- that car would never drive, but you could still take that car and analyze how an engine works."

The aim of the research is to study neurological diseases including schizophrenia and microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder that results in small brains.


Image credit: Madeline A. Lancaster

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