Scientists Grow Mini Human Brains in the Lab

Posted on August 28, 2013

cerebral organoid mini brain grown in lab

Researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences have grown mini human brains in the lab. The scientists used embryonic stem cells to grow the tiny brains. CNN reports that the pea-sized brains are called "cerebral organoids" by the scientists that grew them. They are not functioning brains, but could prove to be an invaluable research tool.

CNN says the scientists created hundreds of the little cerebral organoids. Madeline Lancaster, lead author of the study from the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna, said in a press conference that the brains resemble those of a 9 to 10 week old embryo, but they lack features found in 9-week-old human embryonic brains, such as the cerebellum. The mini-brains typically did not develop a hippocampus. The mini-brains did grow a cerebral cortex and retina.

BBC News says the mini-brains survived for as long as a year. The BBC article quotes Dr. Juergen Knoblich, one of the researchers involved in the project, as saying growing much larger brains would be "undesirable." Dr. Knoblich hopes the research can help with disorders like schizophrenia or autism.

Dr. Knoblich says, "Ultimately we would like to move towards more common disorders like schizophrenia or autism. They typically manifest themselves only in adults, but it has been shown that the underlying defects occur during the development of the brain."

The research was published here in the journal Nature.

Photo: Madeline A. Lancaster