News / Science & Technology

Scientists Create Brain-like Blobs in Test Tubes

A magnified image of a cerebral organoid showing cerebral tissue adjacent to developing retinal tissue (brown pigmented region). (Credit: Madeline A. Lancaster)
A magnified image of a cerebral organoid showing cerebral tissue adjacent to developing retinal tissue (brown pigmented region). (Credit: Madeline A. Lancaster)
They’re the closest thing to human brains that scientists have grown in the lab.

Researchers in Austria and the United Kingdom have nurtured human cells into pea-sized clusters of tissues with striking similarities to embryonic brains.

They provide an unprecedented opportunity to study how disorders such as schizophrenia and autism develop.

The researchers began with stem cells, which can become any type of tissue in the body.

With a little chemical coaxing and a protein scaffold to grow on, they followed the same developmental steps that human brains do. They formed distinct regions resembling those found at about nine weeks after conception. Some even had the beginnings of a retina.

Not quite brains

“All of these steps we have in our cultures, to a level of precision that is totally unexpected," said Juergen Knoblich at the Austrian Academy of Science, who directed the research.

Comparison of the organoid (right) to the developing brain (left, section of a mouse brain shown). Both show neural stem cells in red and neurons in green. (Credit: Marko Repic and Madeline A. Lancaster)Comparison of the organoid (right) to the developing brain (left, section of a mouse brain shown). Both show neural stem cells in red and neurons in green. (Credit: Marko Repic and Madeline A. Lancaster)

"But if you zoom out and look at the whole, the whole is just not a brain,” he said.

Instead, writing in Nature, he and his colleagues call them “cerebral organoids” - not quite brains, but similar.

Scrambled cerebrum

Knoblich says these brain-like blobs can’t replace what’s between your ears.

For one thing, although many of the parts are there, they’re not in the right places. He says it’s like a car gone wrong.

“You have an engine, you have the wheels. But the engine would be on the roof and the gearbox would be attached to that. But you can still take that car and analyze how an engine works,” Knoblich said.

A cross-section of an entire organoid showing development of different brain regions. All cells are in blue, neural stem cells in red, and neurons in green. (Credit: Madeline A. Lancaster)A cross-section of an entire organoid showing development of different brain regions. All cells are in blue, neural stem cells in red, and neurons in green. (Credit: Madeline A. Lancaster)

What these cerebral organoids excel at, he says, is offering a picture of how the brain develops, and how that development can go wrong.

Dysfunctional development

One example is a condition called microcephaly. Patients with the disorder develop very small brains and are severely mentally disabled.

Knoblich’s colleagues took skin cells from a microcephaly patient and reprogrammed them into stem cells.

Lead author Madeline Lancaster grew them in the lab, and immediately noticed that "the overall size of the patient-dervied organoids was much smaller.”

When Lancaster examined how the cells inside the organoids were developing, she found they were different from normal brains in an important way.

This early in life, stem cells are usually multiplying and making more stem cells. But in the microcephaly patients, Lancaster found the stem cells had already started differentiating into the cells that carry signals in the brain, called neurons.

“The stem cells were not expanding like they should and they were making neurons too early," she said. "And we think that this depletion of these stem cells leads to the overall size decrease because in the end, less neurons can be made.”

Other uses

These test tube brains could also be put to use studying more common disorders like schizophrenia and autism.

Although those conditions don’t typically show up until later in life, "it has been shown that the underlying defects already occurred during the development of the brain," Knoblich said. "And we are confident and hope that we might be able to model some of these defects in our organoids as well.”

Knoblich is not sure scientists will ever be able to recreate the complexity of the human brain in a test tube.  
  
“Besides the fact that I think we would run into very severe ethical problems," he said. "I do not think this will be possible.”
 
So keep your head on your shoulders. Scientists aren’t likely to replace it anytime soon.

You May Like

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid