The latest breakthrough in regenerative medicine comes from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW), where researchers have successfully grown human brain tissue. Using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from skin, the researchers utilized a method involving a synthetic gel scaffold, a bath of special cell nutrients, a spinning bioreactor, and plenty of oxygen to produce small “cerebral organoids” that contained discrete and identifiable brain regions that even interacted with each other.
The scientists were able to use the cerebral organoids to model microcephaly, a condition that is thought to occur during fetal development and causes stunted brain growth and cognitive impairments. By observing the stunted growth and smaller size of cerebral organoids affected with microcephaly, the scientists were able to support the theory that premature differentiation of neural stem cells inside microcephalic brain tissue more rapidly depleted the population of progenitor cells that fuel normal brain growth.
However, before you sign up that slightly crazy cousin for the artificial brain recipient list, know that the cerebral organoids were only able to grow to about the size of peas. Scientists say the growth limit is likely due to the fact that actual maturing brains receive growth signals from other parts of the body and contain blood vessels, which the cerebral organoids lack. Moreover, the arrangement and composition of the different brain areas varied between each cerebral organoid and did not form any structures that are anatomically or physiologically similar to an actual brain. So, a full-size, functional artificial brain might still be a long ways away, but at least for now, pea-sized, biologically active cerebral organoids can be bite-sized snacks for famished zombies.
Take a listen to an interview with lead researcher Juergen Knoblich on Nature journal’s weekly podcast (skip to 20:00 to hear the interview):
Journal Abstract from Nature: Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly…