Are we now closer to a thinking laboratory grown brain than ever? Yes, hands down. What was previously thought to be ‘mission-impossible’ – growing a working human brain in the laboratory due to missing cells, now seems otherwise.
In a new research, scientists have managed to develop key brain organoids that now contain super important cells that are found in the cerebral cortex of the human brain.
The scientists are using what they call a cutting-edge laboratory process that literally turns human stem cells (not mice or pig stem cells) into brain-like tissues. These have the ability to recapitulate brain growth more accurately, right in the lab environment and in dishes.
Since the discovery, organoid technology has completely redefined how far researchers can move into analyzing human tissues, how and why organs grow and function the way they do.
The most interesting part being, technology, in general, has empowered scientists to grow different human organs like the kidney, the ear, blood cells, muscles and embryonic tissues.
Well, there has also been great success in growing the human brain before, in fact in different trials, only that the models came out incomplete. Now, the new study comes in as a link filler and solution to previously impossible endeavors.
Paul Tesar, Ph.D., and Ruth Weber an associate professor of genome science and genetics, both from the University of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and colleagues say they’ve taken the organoid system, and have managed to add the major cell type right into the CNS (central nervous system).
“We call them oligodendrocytes and we are happy that we can now have a super improved representation of cellular interaction. This allows us to study what exactly goes on during human brain development,” said Tesar.
These are highly important cells of the oligodendroglia– responsible for keeping the brain healthy.
The work of oligodendrocytes is to manufacture myelin, a special fatty substance. In common language, myelin acts as a coating on nerves and is involved in nerve cell connections. A good illustration of that is how cables do insulate electric codes and the jointing mechanism.
Without myelin, it means nerve cells cannot pass signals effectively; communication would deteriorate, or simply be disconnected completely. In fact, findings show most neurological diseases come as a result of myelin defect, pointing to conditions like the rare pediatric genetic disorder and multiple sclerosis.
How This Will Impact Future Lab Growing of the Human Brain
In the study, which was also published in Nature Methods, Tesar states that this will be a significant tool in understanding human neurological diseases and brain development.
“We can now advance stem cell technology to grow numerous quantities of human brain-like tissues right in the lab’s confines. So far, the method allows us to create a ‘mini-cortex’ that has astrocytes, neurons, and now oligodendrocytes that produce myelin.” We can add to this to say the researchers are now just a few steps to developing a true human brain.
Do These Lab Grown Brains Think?
While that’s an exciting question, it’s kind of, scientists in previous breakthroughs have tried to avoid it. They said it’s not yet a thinking brain, but they are creating a heart to help it develop to that level.
Maybe that’s true, but how can a brain not think? Could it be that the experts just can’t yet measure the thinking capacity of their developed brain? I think so.
What Exactly is in this New Milestone?
Although we are yet to evaluate the thinking ability of lab-grown brains, the new milestone in the grown tissues would be super profitable in brain-related therapeutic researches.
These organoids bring in new possibilities to predict the efficacy and safety of myelin therapeutics on brain-like tissues in the lab—before they can be tested in humans.
Tesar explains this more clearly, that henceforth, this will be used to test myelin-enhancing medications and potential therapies — as it allows lab generation of human brain tissues from any patient.