By Elizabeth Landau, CNN, October 02, 2013.
We’ve seen beating heart tissue, windpipes and bladders all grown from stem cells. Now researchers have taken another important step forward by growing mini brains from these programmable cells.
They’re not actually functioning brains — in the same way that a car with the engine on its roof or wheels on its hood isn’t a drivable vehicle — but the parts are there, and that’s an important scientific advancement, according to Juergen Knoblich, senior author of a new study on using stem cells to grow brain tissue.
Scientists have created what they are calling “cerebral organoids” using stem cells. These pea-sized structures are made of human brain tissue, and they can help researchers explore important questions about brain development and disorders that occur during these first stages of life.
The organoids, as described in the journal Nature, have components resembling those of a brain of a 9- or 10-week-old embryo, said lead study author Madeline Lancaster, a researcher at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna, at a press briefing Tuesday.
She and colleagues have created hundreds of these organoids.
At this early stage of human development, several key regions of the brain are already distinctive features, including the dorsal cortex, the ventral forebrain, the choroid plexus — which generates cerebrospinal fluid — and regions that resemble the midbrain and hindbrain. Lancaster and colleagues say they’ve identified some of those same regions in these new mini brains.