Yep, you read that right. They have grown a brain in a lab.
(Mad) scientists at Ohio State University are the first in the world to have performed this crazy feat, in the hope that they can discover the secrets to some of the most devastating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinsons. They claim it can be used not only to help treat these diseases, but also to gain a better understanding of the progression of some developmental disorders such as Autism.
“Genomic science infers there are up to 600 genes that give rise to autism, but we are stuck there. Mathematical correlations and statistical methods are insufficient to in themselves identify causation. You need an experimental system – you need a human brain.”
The unconscious brain resembles that of a 5-week old foetus, yet has 99% of the different neuron types and genes of a fully-formed organ. It even has a spinal cord, nerve-signalling circuitry and a retina (an area in the eye vital for vision). The brain was created through a complex process of turning adult skin cells into ‘pluripotent’ cells – these are a type of stem cell which can be programmed to turn into literally any cell type in the human body.
Unfortunately they cannot grow a brain any larger than this one because it would require a blood vessel structure they cannot provide – for that they would also need to build an artificial heart. I have no doubt, however, that one day this will become a reality. Although the exact uses of the artificial brain are not yet 100% clear, the scientists who have worked on the project have high hopes:
“If you have an inherited disease, for example, you could give us a sample of skin cells, we could make a brain and then ask what’s going on,” said Professor Anand, who presented the work at the Military Health Research Symposium today.
“We can look at the expression of every gene in the human genome at every step of the development process and see how they change with different toxins. Maybe then we’ll be able to say ‘holy cow, this one isn’t good for you.’”
I am quite astounded at how this research could completely revolutionise personalised medicine, but the thing I love the most is that they are initially using it to investigate post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries. These are two areas I am really interested in, so I’ll try my best to follow the research and tell you guys what they’ve found. You can read more about the project here.
HOW COOL IS THIS?!