Scientists have grown miniature human brains in test tubes (which are known to scientists as “cerebal organoids”). This has created a “tool” for scientists to understand more how the brain develops from the embryo, through its life and to increase their understanding of mental and neurological problems. This could then lead to advances in the treatment and management of these disorders or illnesses.
These “cerebral organoids” are just are just a few millimeters across and they are made up of just a few layers of brain cells, yet have clearly identifiable regions, similar to an embryonic brain.
Scientists say that this creation will allow biologists in particular, to analyse how mental conditions such as schizophrenia occur, because although these problems may be diagnosed later on in life, there can be defects that occur at birth which go on to eventually cause the problem in the future.
These miniature brains are also expected to be a development in the testing of drugs. At the moment this is done using laboratory animals of isolated human cells, these organoids could allow drugs to be tested in more human-like settings.
Researchers at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna started with this development by using stem cells and recreating conditions similar to that inside a human womb. Previously this technique allowed scientists to create models of other human organs such as the eyes and liver. After several days the stem cells formed spheres measuring about 3-4mm in diameter.
These cerebral organoids show discrete regions that clearly resemble areas of the early developing human brains. One of these regions is the dorsal cortex which is the largest part of the human brain.
Currently these structures do not grow larger than a few millimetres because the nutrients and oxygen can’t reach the centre of the organoids to grow to a larger size. To do this these structures would need to be equipped with some kind of blood supply to feed their centres.
The object of growing these organoids isn’t to create replacement structures as the scientists would be unlikely to reach the complexity required for a higher brain function but to create a structure that they can use in the testing of other drugs and much more.