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Scientists grow mini human brain, a real Frankenstein on the way?

Scientists have successfully grown mini human brains, which may eventually play a vital role in the analyses of various mental and neurological conditions of future studies.

Human brain 'organoid' grown from stem cells

Utilizing techniques derived from stem cell research, the scientists managed to grow “cerebral organoids”, which is believed to be the layers of cells that make up certain regions an embryonic brain.

“The cerebral organoids display discrete regions that resemble different areas of the early developing brain.  These include the dorsal cortex identity—the dorsal cortex is the largest part of the human brain.  They also include regions representing the ventral forebrain and even the immature retina,” said Madeline Lancaster, a scientist involved in the research.

Sci-fi fans might be quick to say that this is a stepping stone to creating a real life Frankenstein, but the lab-grown brain is actually just a bunch of cells that possess similar characteristics to that of a fully-developed brain.  Additionally, the scientists growing the brain also admits that their brain currently can only grow to be a few millimeters in diameter (3-4mm), because a much more complex nutrient delivery system (for cell development/division) is necessary for the organoids to grow bigger.

Researchers are hoping that their ‘miniature’ brains will help to further their understandings of the brain and all its complexities.  For instance, certain brain-related conditions can be traced back to the brain’s developmental stage.

Microcephaly, a developmental disease in which an individual’s brain grows to a much smaller size than normal, can be studied and perhaps prevented if scientists can track down the cause of why stem cells turn into brain cells too quickly.

Using this particular bit of research to analyze brain development is one thing, but scientists are also quick to point out that the chances of them growing a ‘replacement’ brain is next to zero.

“I have to be pessimistic about this.  The ultimate complexity of the brain will not allow any replacement of structures,” said Paul Matthews, a neuroscience professor at Imperial College London.  “In the adult brain all the parts are intimately integrated with other areas of the brain.  It would be very hard to repair defects with his.”

Source: the guardian

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