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Mini-Brains Grown In the Lab 170

fustakrakich sends news that researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences have used embryonic stem cells to grow a tiny human brain in a laboratory. The miniature brain, roughly the size of a pea, is at the same level of development as that of a 9-week-old fetus. From the BBC: "They used either embryonic stem cells or adult skin cells to produce the part of an embryo that develops into the brain and spinal cord - the neuroectoderm. This was placed in tiny droplets of gel to give a scaffold for the tissue to grow and was placed into a spinning bioreactor, a nutrient bath that supplies nutrients and oxygen. The cells were able to grow and organise themselves into separate regions of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, the retina, and, rarely, an early hippocampus, which would be heavily involved in memory in a fully developed adult brain. The tissues reached their maximum size, about 4mm (0.1in), after two months. The 'mini-brains' have survived for nearly a year, but did not grow any larger. There is no blood supply, just brain tissue, so nutrients and oxygen cannot penetrate into the middle of the brain-like structure."
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Mini-Brains Grown In the Lab

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:56PM (#44700327)

    these are going in my pc soon right

  • Re:Applications (Score:5, Interesting)

    by toppavak (943659) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:43PM (#44700883)
    Exactly, in my lab we work primarily on bone and colon tissue (although generated from adult stem or induced pluripotent stem cells). It would not be exaggerating to call these technologies the next generation of medical research. There are tons of genetic and developmental disorders that are either too rare to study readily in vivo or just impossible to study in-vitro. We're nearing the point where we can start with IPSC's either engineered to carry mutations of interest or derived directly from patients carrying these mutations and turn them into all sorts of tissues: liver, colon, neural, vascular, muscular, etc. In many cases it's not even necessary to get to the stage of organoids, simply having true human tissue with the right pathophysiology will be a tremendous boon to in-vitro drug screening and discovery and far more relevant than animal models.
  • by Ardyvee (2447206) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:20PM (#44701167)

    I doubt it would be driven mad. For all intents and porposes, since it would not be exposed to the five senses, nor human culture, it'd be as close as to a raw brain and effectively mad to begin with. To better illustrate my point, imagine a realistic and more extremist version of Disney's Tarzan.

    Now, you do touch a very interesting point. So far it is believed by a subset of the global population that we are our brains (another subset believes that we are something beyond our brains, but that's another debate). Assuming such brain developed to the size/complexity of that of a child and had the structures and what not, we would have to assume we are in fact dealing with a... bodyless? human. Chances are whatever research was on-going would have to be stopped under current rules (since it would go from cells to full grown human). Any wishes to proceed with research would also require that we ask the brain if they want to participate (and we would have to teach the brain to speak, understand what we are asking and tell the brain that it is only brain grown for the sole porpouse of advancing science and that it does not have a body). Then if it denies the request, somebody would have to take care of the brain because of the ethical implications of letting it die.

    On the other hand, humanity (those with bodies and part of our societies[probably need a better criteria]) could choose to treat such brains differently. But then we'll hear that we are de-humanizing humans. On the other hand this could be the catalyst to a lot of breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience (and related fields). Being capable of studying, stripping, adding, modifying a human brain, even if it is the equivalent of a 9-week-old fetus' brain, will allow to reach further than what we can right now with any other method. Of course, we do have mice brains, and they also have proved to be very valuable, but... say, instead of going from theories to animals to people, we could go to theories to animals to human brain to people.

    One thing is for certain in all this: whoever has to make the decision will have it hard, either on making the decision, or with the many sides this issue will have. I would not want to be that person.

    As an aside, one thing that would be very interesting to try, although perhaps cruel, would be to have a conscious, intelligent, communication capable and socially integrated brain (that is, think of a person that's lived in our society, studied... lived outside of a lab) and try to plug different things into the brain, try separating some regions, try adding them together, try adding more cells and see the effects it has on the very capabilities of the brain, and what it experiences. Does it/the brain feel something different when you do it, or does it simply loose the capabilities and only notices when compared to previous experiences? What about adding things? I think it would be a very interesting experiment to do. Go beyond what we can learn from people who suffered accidents.

The Wright Bothers weren't the first to fly. They were just the first not to crash.