Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Medicine in Cambridge are growing brains outside the human body. The brains allow the researchers to understand more about brain development, which could help solve neurological diseases unique to humans like autism and schizophrenia.
Madeline Lancaster, who works at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Medicine in Cambridge, says they used skin cells to develop these cerebral organoids. However, any cell can be used. The research team used proteins to turn cells into stem cells then allowed them to grow on a Petri dish. Consequently, the stem cells will begin to specialize and turn into different kinds of cells, including brain cells.
The cerebral organoids are similar to a normal human brain. Like a person’s brain, these are divided into grey matter and white matter. Grey matter is made up of neurons and white matter is a fatty tissue, the BBC reports.
The cerebral organoids also have different regions. These include the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for language and conscious thought, the hippocampus, which is crucial for memory and emotion, the cerebellum, which controls muscular activity and maintain balance, and other regions of a human brain.
“We have previously shown that cerebral organoids can model neurodevelopmental disorders, such as microcephaly, a disorder characterized by a significantly reduced brain size, states Lancaster on her project page. “Our current interests focus on other neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and intellectual disability by introducing mutations seen in these disorders and examining their roles in pathogenesis in the context of organoid development. Furthermore, we are studying cellular mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disease progression and potential therapeutic avenues.”
Despite this, some have questioned the research team’s project to create a human brain. One of them is Martin Coath from the Cognition Institute at the University of Plymouth, who says that a lab-grown human brain, with normal functioning such as having hopes, dreams and ability to feel pain, would ask these experts about what they were doing to it. Coath says that he prefers developing brains with simpler development than regular human brains instead of exact human brains.