- Scientists have grown the first working 'mini-brains' in a dish
- They could provide future treatments for autism and epilepsy
- The team stimulated two types of neuron to join up as they would in the brain
Described as 'thrilling science', it is the first time a human forebrain has been seen in action outside the body. Scientists hope to use the mini-brains to watch in real time the triggers for epilepsy, when brain cells become hyperactive, and autism, where they are thought to form bad connections.
THE BRAIN IN A DISH
The brains in a dish are the latest advance for stem cell science.
Human skin cells are transformed into pluripotent stem cells, capable of becoming any part of the body, using four genes in a petri dish. These help them 'unlearn' that they are skin cells and return to the state of a newborn baby's cells.
The 'culture', or nutrient-rich broth they are grown in, is then altered to determine which type of cell they will become – in this case brain cells, or neurons. The result is a 60-day old forebrain like a baby's in the womb, although more scrambled in its connections.
It includes the cerebral cortex, the most highly evolved 'thinking' and decision-making part of the brain. It could pave the way for drugs to treat these conditions, as well as schizophrenia. It is also the next step towards a real-life Frankenstein, suggesting scientists may one day be able to grow an entire human body in the laboratory.
Researchers at Stanford University grew two forebrain circuits, measuring only a sixteenth of an inch across, using only human skin cells.
Then scientists at Harvard University went a step further, growing a mini-organ for more than nine months to create a human retina – the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye.
Responding to the breakthroughs, Professor Paul Matthews, chair of the brain sciences division at Imperial College London, said: 'These reports describe continued advances of the fundamentally important new methods for generation of self-assembled 'brain organoids'. This is thrilling science.'