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Biotech Science

Scientists Can Now Grow Brain Cells In The Lab 81

H_Fisher writes "Scientists in Florida have grown mature brain cells in the laboratory, a scientific first. The Independent reports that "[...]they were able to produce virtually unlimited quantities of brain cells, which could revolutionise transplant medicine as well as leading to new drugs to stimulate the regrowth of damaged nerves." This could be a milestone in the treatment of Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, and many other illnesses and injuries."
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Scientists Can Now Grow Brain Cells In The Lab

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  • by qurk ( 87195 ) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @08:00PM (#12819109)
    Friends! They have been getting pretty lonely.
  • Zombie Food (Score:3, Funny)

    by pyrrhonist ( 701154 ) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @08:07PM (#12819157)
    Now we'll really be ready when the dead rise from the grave.
  • But... (Score:3, Funny)

    by timothv ( 730957 ) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @08:08PM (#12819166)
    Can these brains do floating point operations?
  • Say Goodbye... (Score:2, Interesting) my acid flashbacks!!! Bye bye holes in my brain. Soon I'll be able to fly my jet again.
  • by jrivar59 ( 146428 ) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @08:24PM (#12819290)
    The first application that leaps to mind is that regenerated cells could be used to replace damanged or aged cells somehow, but is that really possible?

    Other types of tissue have been reproduced before, but I've never heard of it being applied such a way. For instance, if you suffer liver failure, your still dependent on an organ doner..

    Or are are there already some types of organ regeneration procedures already in practice? I would guess that the brain would be one of the most difficut types of tissue to do things like this.
    • by Ieshan ( 409693 ) <ieshan&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @09:04PM (#12819558) Homepage Journal
      I don't really study neuroanatomy, but most patients with (hopefully repairable) brain damage aren't in need of an entire brain, they're in need of cells that produce specific chemicals. Parkinsons, for instance, is caused by a lack of Dopaminergic Neurons in a small portion towards the back of the brain; the ability to transplant new, fresh neurons may allieviate the symptoms.

      A bit of an unfair comparison (because we can easily administer a drug and the injury is not nearly so severe) would be implanting cells that produce Lactase Enzyme for digesting dairy products in people who are lactose intolerant. It's not that the person needs a new stomach, they need a specific chemical which their brain cells are unable to make and we are unable to easily perscribe (dopamine precursors have lots of associated symptoms of their own).
      • I agree with this. Most patients with degenerative brain disorders (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, PSP, etc.) aren't in need of unspecified neurons or brain matter, but specific neurons. The real breakthrough will be if they can get neurons to differentiate using known developmental cues and signals in the lab, since (I'm pretty sure) after initial development, there's little to no capacity for the mature brain tissue to signal differentiation of adjacent tissue. Dosage would be a huge issue, as well. Placin
      • It's unfortunately much more complicated then just replacing the missing or damaged cells with new healthy cells. The neurons are useless unless they have synapses with the correct neurons both for input and output. One could treat neurons to make them more likely to make synapses and stimulate synaptic formation, but the cells would have to find and make new connections before they could possibly be actual replacements. How neurons are able to make and maintain these connections with the right cells is mos
    • The first application that leaps to mind is that regenerated cells could be used to replace damanged or aged cells somehow, but is that really possible?

      Nope, neurons and glial cells can't be readily replaced. As shown by this webpage, the nervous system [] . Each neuron may have dozens synaptic connections via dendrites and axons to other neurons and humans have 100 billion neurons in thier brains. What happens is that each meuron sends out a number of dendrites that then can connect to a number of ax

    • Usefulness is useful, but pure science is fascinating, and the research potential here astonishes me.

      One of my all-time favorite reads was Complexity [], couched as the story of the Sante Fe Institute [] and its brilliant, eccentric, tortured visionaries. Each an expert in their academic (in the sense of "strict observance of conventional rules" as well as "pertaining to academia") field, including economics, biology and computer science, they pursued the interdisciplinary "science of complexity" [].

      The univer
  • Seriously, if they're making "virtually unlimited quantities" they should at least shove a bunch together and wire up some sort of interface. It'd be interesting to see if it'll learn how to interact with whatever inputs it's given and maybe learn to respond.

    We could then start teaching it stuff. Much fun.
    • Already done (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tod_miller ( 792541 )
      With rat brain cells, in a suspesion, with lots of tiny wires on a core placed into them, they found that patterns emerged.

      But our brains have built in abilities, for instance, we do not learn to smell or process visual cues, or move our muscles.

      What would be cool? The ability to interface a controlled part of the brain (like, learn something while thinking about the beatles) to allow us to control which part of the brain stores some info, and have this as a removable, tranferrable core, and then see if w
      • But our brains have built in abilities, for instance, we do not learn to smell or process visual cues, or move our muscles.

        Um, yeah, you do. You know all that random flailing that small babies do? Playing with their fingers? All that is to learn which nerves are hooked up to what. The major motor nerves are essentially wired up randomly, and the brain learns the mappings at 'run time'.

        There are very few 'compile time' motor nerve mappings in humans, and most of these are handled in the brain stem --- t

        • Well done, I said move muscules not walking.

          How can they flail around if they haven't already learned to move their muscles?

          You know, even flailing and moving arms with neural circuitry cannot just exist, it has to be programmed and designed, pre built.

          You were Thinking moving a biological arm in a flailing motion (yet controlled, they can stop and start) is LESS complex than learning to walk on them, at a neural processing level?

          Yes walking patterns get placed into 'muscle' memory, but the ability to m
          • moving muscles are controlled with your mind (most of them anyways), your heart is controlled by the brain stem
            • The heart receives signals from the brain stem (as well as chemical signals like adrenaline), but it's controlled by its own pacemaker node and will tick along just fine even if the nerve from the brain stem is disrupted.
          • You were Thinking moving a biological arm in a flailing motion (yet controlled, they can stop and start) is LESS complex than learning to walk on them, at a neural processing level?

            Hell, yeah. You fire nerves at random. After a while your brain learns particular patterns, both in which combinations of nerves make particular motions and also which nerves get fired in response to tell you what's happened --- major motor nerves are big, complex things, and have lots of feedback systems. Just moving your arm

            • If you look at the semantics of what I said, I said the brain knows how to move muscles, no coordinated movement, and, for some reason, which I forget, that point of distinction was important.

              I forgot what this thread was about now, but the very fact that you can randomly and uncoordinatedly move your muscles means the brain knows how to move muscles. (ok just nerve impules, but you are wired up, albeit randomly, or not randomly, but we don't know what does what yet)
          • This discussion is getting stupid...

            The ability to move your muscles isn't 'pre-built', it's something you start learning at the foetal stage of development.

            The only autonomous movement in your body is your heart & bowels which are both comprised of unique electromotive cells. They're not controlled by the brain/nervous system at all.

            'Muscle memory'.. now THAT'S just silly!
            • ability to make the chemical-physical transition in your muscle cells to make contraction and relaxation must be built in, because it is a mechanism.

              logically thats like saying you can learn to see. (not interpret the world necessarily, or identify faces, but receieve optical impulse necessary to allow you to do all that learning)

              Get the distinction yet?

              Muscle memory? silly? wha? No, it is real, just like 2+2=4 is automatic, some movements become automatic by the same neutral pathway ingraining. Just ask
              • OK, granted that the ability to convert a neural chemical signal to a nervous electrical impulse nerve is a "built-in" process.
                What I was implying was that the ablility to intentionally use that process to trigger a reaction in a specific muscle or part or our body is something we learn to control from as early as the foetal stage of development.

                So yeah, I get the distiction.
  • At last! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bodhidharma ( 22913 ) <jimliedeka@gmai l . com> on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @08:46PM (#12819449)
    Finally, the end of the Republican party is in sight.
  • Someone will probably try to create a meter-wide brain now, and then enslave it to produce slightly better marketing memes. That is, until it escapes from its jar and takes over the world.

  • by Frumious Wombat ( 845680 ) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @08:52PM (#12819487)
    Within the limitation that some mechanism for simulating the blood/brain barrier will have to be devised, this should lead to a new generation of drug screens. Now you can test the effect of new drugs at physiological concentrations on real brain cells. This potentially means no more guess-work based on rat models, and less endangering of real patients during the phase three trials.

    Of course, people with more vision than I have will undoubtedly be using this as a way of testing their Borg prototypes, but that's progress of a sort as well. Seriously enough, this will allow you to do the necessary tests to make sure that human cells interface correctly with cybernetic implants, thereby speeding development of bionic eyes, neuro-muscular interfaces, etc.

    So, how long until, "we can remember it for you wholesale", or "johnny mnemonic"?
    • We Can Remember it for you Wholesale was released as Total Recall [] in 1990, and Johnny Mnemonic [] came out in 1995.

      I know this is slashdot and all, but really, you should get out more.

      • I know this is slashdot and all, but really, you should get out more.

        Maybe I should get out more myself but I'll bite - what good (i.e. "Paycheck" doesn't count) movies have come out since then with a similar theme...?
      • Depressingly, I saw one of them, and then decided not to let a bad movie adaptation ruin another short story for me.

        Personally, I'm looking forward to the plug-in supplementary memory from the second, although the idea of vacation memories without the hassle of flying is appealing.
  • So there is hope for my coworkers after all!
  • to the phrase "artificial intelligence"
  • Treat disease? Peh! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mister_llah ( 891540 ) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @10:00PM (#12819962) Homepage Journal
    Treating disease? We should be using these new brain cells to augment existing brilliance!

    It seems almost like a waste to repair an alzheimers damaged brain which will be dead in 10 years anyway when you could, instead, augment, say... mine, and I've got a good 60 or 70 years to go.

    Selfish old people, hmph.
  • But... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @10:47PM (#12820232)

    Can they grow Pinky cells yet?

    • Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
      • NAARF!


        Why, yes Brain, I AM pondering what you're pondering!

      • I think so, Brain...

        ...but if Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why does he keep doing it?

        ...but shouldn't the Batboy be wearing a cape?

        ...but balancing a family and a career...oh, it's just all too much for me.

        ...but this time you wear the tutu.

        ...but, 'Snowball for Windows'?

  • I worry... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dalutong ( 260603 ) <> on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @11:45PM (#12820544)
    This discoveries are pretty fantastic, but they worry me.

    Right now the technology doesn't exist to artificially increase yours or your baby's intelligence using artificially generated brain cells. But everytime I see an article like this, I realize that by the time I die there will be some serious questions people will be making like, "is it okay to up my intelligence by 10 points?"

    I don't want to have to make those kinds of decisions, or to live in a world where it will be possible. because once a handful of people start doing things like that the rest of us have a lot of pressure to do the same. if 2 percent of people start doing that it makes the rest of us a lot less competative.

    these kinds of things already happen, they're just not physiological. there started to be people working crazy overtime, and their peers had no choice but to do the same in order to compete.

    but as much as i don't like sacrificing time at home, the question of "how much overtime do i work" is really tiny compared to "how much do i f*ck with my kids brain?"

    just not a question i want to have to ask...

    • Perhaps the real question will be "Should I be allowed to better any physical characteristic of my unborn child?". I doubt there would be any concern about correct real genetic defects which lead to serious disabillities. However what about genetic defect that lead to brains like those of Einstein? Or would Mozard have been able to write better or worse music if he's deafness would have been prevented before he was even born? Would Mozard have been willing to sacrifice his succes for the ability to hear?
      • by QMO ( 836285 )
        I'm thinking that you meant, W. A. Mozart, but he wan't deaf.
        Then I think, maybe you mean L. van Beethoven, but his deafness was late onset, not a birth defect, plus it's arguable (because it's subjective) that his very best music came after his hearing loss.

        So, the question remains, Mozard????
        • ok, I think I proved I'm not in classical music. I did indeed meant Beethoven.
          Point is that his genetic defect that caused his hearing loss at later age might as well have some effect on how he percieved sound throughout his life.
          • I think that you have a valid point. Did his "pre-deafness" change help make his music what it is?

            My other question then is perhaps only tangentially related.
            Did Beethoven's deafness have it roots in genetic defect?
            There are many other reasons for deafness. Disease, infection, loud noises, brain injury, sharp stick in the ear, etc. I had a roommate that was deaf from birth, but his deafness came from birth trauma, not genetic defect (he was also blind in one eye).
    • This is pretty much the world that is portrayed in the movie Gattaca.

      Those that are genetically "perfect" are given extra benefits, and those that are not are destined to live lives of unimportance, working menial jobs.

      Not enough people think beyond themselves these days, and think of the wider implications of what advances can have on society as a whole.

    • Why the children? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BlueHands ( 142945 )
      Why assume that children will be the first for a brain boost?

      People are going to augment themselves first and fastest. Long before people are mucking around with their children's brains (or genes for that matter), people will be trying to uplift themselves. Kids are gonna be BEGGING to be upgraded. Ask yourself how many people don't want to be smarter.

      As for worrying about it, why? Would you every say "I worry about Google but all the information of the world at my finger tips." The are many many dangerou
      • I worry about having to make the decision because I don't want to have to upgrade myself or my kids so they can stay competative.

        Read the other responses to my original post. One had a good point about Einstein and Mozart.

        And intelligence is overrated. It might help your work, but it doesn't necessarily add to the value of your life.

        I have the same opinions about ritalin -- the world (or at least america) has demanded people (including young kids) be able to concentrate for 10 hours straight so people po
        • You shouldn't even waste time contemplating it, kids should be "upgraded". Consider for a moment, if your children were to end up being Einsteins because of some random genetic variance, would you complain or worry about it? Probably not, so why is it so bad when the randomness is taken out of it?
          One of the important parts of being a parent is providing your child with every possible advantage to succeed; and, with any luck, to do better than you did yourself. Genetic manipulation is a good way to go ab
      • Historically, people have rebelled against the strictures that were imposed upon them. Nations wanted people to control their sex lives, their violence, etc. And as much benefit as that control might give, both to individuals and nations, it would also dramatically increase the power of those who already weild power. It could fundamentally change human nature, and society with it. The grandparent was right to want to proceed with caution.

        Economic necessity is a powerful incentive for people to change their
    • If a given country (say, the US) makes intelligence enhancing treatments illegal for moral reasons, then it will get a big heaping dose of reality when it loses out to another country that has been modifying its people left and right. Once that technology is available (and we're nowhere near that point with the brain), anyone who does not adopt it will be at a disadvantage. It becomes something like a prisoner's dilemma; each nation would have to trust each other nation to not allow enhancement of their cit
    • Adding extra brain cells won't make you (or your kids) smarter. In fact, it might make them less intelligent. It is somewhat common for people with macrocephaly to have some degree of mental retardation.

    • That's a problem I see with eugenics, how much expectation will a parent put on their children. Then again those expectations don't exist just with eugenics, today more and more parents are using their children to "fulfill" their own hopes, especially in sports. Parents are getting so they push their children to be the best in whatever sport they are interested in, be it soccer (soccer moms anyone?), gymnastics, football, or what have you. These parents aren't content to let their children enjoy play and

  • What do they feel (Score:2, Interesting)

    by readin ( 838620 )
    Am I the only one wondering how many of these brain cells will be needed to have a brain with feelings? Am I the only one concerned about the moral implications of these experiments? If embryos aren't human because they don't have a brain and can't have human emotions, then what do we say about something that consists of only a human brain and is capable of emotion, but has has no way of expressing to us what those emotions are?
    • I don't think we're that far. If you've ever seen how complex the human brain is, I think you can say we're still a long way from a real thinking mind. The human brain is a very complex system, we've just been able to build the building blocks of it. We're more likely to build an insect-like brain first (is it wrong to kill an insect?) and more complicated brain structures later, however something as complex of the human mind will be something for the far future.
    • Well, for now, the easiest way to create a new brain is to have sex. Of course that responsibilty hasn't been used with much discretion...

      But seriously, this is not really anywhere close to a pressing concern at this point. A human brain contains about 100 billion neurons, each with about 2000 connections to other neurons. We're not exactly on the verge of producing one in a lab. And, even if we did, there is reason to believe that separated from an physical body, deprived of the normal developmental
      • A big part of the problem is that we don't really understand what emotion and consciousness are. We highly suspect that more than one brain cell is required, but do we really know for sure? Do we have any clue as to where the change from no-emotions and unconscious to counscious with emotions occurs?
        Someone said that "And, even if we did, there is reason to believe that separated from an physical body, deprived of the normal developmental processes, etc. that its behavior still would not resemble consci
  • Dr. Schroeder: "Did you kill them all?"
    Igor: "I guess... They started auto-lysing last night, don't know why. Yeah, the new batch's gonna be ready on Thursday. All pretty happy so far, pink and shiny - have a look into my jars."
  • by NoSuchGuy ( 308510 ) <do-not-harvest-m ...> on Wednesday June 15, 2005 @07:37AM (#12821971) Journal
    send these cells to:

    The White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    Washington, DC 20500

    Maybe there is hope?

  • that my Monthly "attitiude" adjustment can go to a quad weekly attitude adjustment with little fear of reprocushion.

    Course, could I really afford it, probably not.
  • by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday June 15, 2005 @03:55PM (#12826374)

    Good, as a TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, survivor if they need human guinea pigs then I volunteer.

  • I wonder if I could have my skull custom made for room to grow more brain matter. Probobly improbable?
  • I wonder if we could make them run Linux?

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...