Scientists Say They've Grown Functioning Human 'Minibrains' With Real Blood Vessels

Thursday, 05 April 2018 - 1:14PM
Science News
Thursday, 05 April 2018 - 1:14PM
Scientists Say They've Grown Functioning Human 'Minibrains' With Real Blood Vessels
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Image credit: YouTube
Science keeps getting weirder.

A team of biologists has successfully grown tiny, microscopic "minibrains" from human stem cells, which are capable of functioning just like the grey matter within our own skulls.

While this research has been ongoing for a while now, the team have managed to turn a new corner by growing minibrains that have developed their own network of blood vessels, which should, in theory, allow them to live comfortably in a lab for up to a year.

Previous minibrains, which are no larger than a millimeter in length, have had a particularly short shelf life because they haven't had an adequate way of absorbing oxygen throughout their form. Now that scientists have helped them to develop blood vessels, they should be capable of living for far longer than was previously achievable.

Minibrains are organoids (they're similar to real organs, but lack a lot of features) that have been developed from human stem cells. These minibrains aren't as sophisticated as a fully grown brain, but they are capable of transmitting messages across neurons in much the same way as a traditional brain.

Just a heads up, though: if you're already somewhat squeamish about the idea of little gooey blobs of human brain being grown in test tubes, you're probably not going to like the next few paragraphs.

In order to encourage the development of blood capillaries within their minibrains, scientists coated their creations in human endothelial cells, which are the cells that form into blood vessels within our bodies naturally. The minibrains were left marinating in these cells for three to five weeks, after which they needed some time in vitro within a living brain in order to develop fully.

So, scientists transplanted their newly grown minibrains into the heads of mice, who carried them around and allowed them to develop further. After two weeks of life inside mice, the brains had shows signs of growing their own blood vessel systems, which should, in theory, allow them to grow to be more healthy and long-lived than previous experiments.

The creation of these blood vessels is being hailed as a success, but at present, scientists aren't entirely sure whether the capillaries are human or rodent in origin. This is the problem with creating bizarre hybrid creatures in a lab—you never can tell if you've created Mouse Man or Man Mouse.

The idea of growing human brains in jars is likely to draw some ire from human rights activists. As much as these minibrains might not be very intelligent, it's hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to this kind of bizarre scientific experimentation—does the knowledge we gain from growing our own brain tissue justify the fact that we've had to create a part of a human brain in the process, and what rights, if any, should a minibrain possess?

The scientists involved in the study certainly believe that their work is relevant and pertinent. The intention behind such experiments is to learn about the functionality of the human brain, in an effort to find new, novel cures or treatments for brain disorders.

Whether this research will turn up anything remains to be seen. For now, we simply seem to be a little closer to creating the Rats of NIHM.
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