An almost fully formed human brain, engineered from adult human skin cells, has been grown in a lab for the first time, scientists from Ohio State University say.
The team behind the feat hope the brain could transform our understanding of neurological disease.
Though not conscious, the miniature brain could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development.
The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is the most complete human brain model yet developed, said Rene Anand of Ohio State University, Columbus, who on Tuesday presented the work at the Military Health System Research Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Previous attempts at growing whole brains have at best achieved mini-organs, although these “cerebral organoids” were not complete and only contained certain aspects of the brain.
“We have grown the entire brain from the get-go,” Anand said.
Anand and his colleagues claim to have reproduced 99 percent of the brain’s diverse cell types and genes. They say their brain also contains a spinal cord, signaling circuitry and even a retina.
The ethical concerns were non-existent, Anand said.
“We don’t have any sensory stimuli entering the brain. This brain is not thinking in any way,” he said.
Anand says the brain was created by converting adult skin cells into pluripotent cells — stem cells that can be programmed to become any tissue in the body. These were then grown in a specialized environment that persuaded the stem cells to grow into all the different components of the brain and central nervous system.
According to Anand, it takes about 12 weeks to create a brain. To go further would require a network of blood vessels that the team cannot yet produce.
“We’d need an artificial heart to help the brain grow further in development,” Anand said.
Several researchers contacted by the Guardian said it was hard to judge the quality of the work without access to more data, which Anand is keeping under wraps due to a pending patent on the technique.
Many were uncomfortable that the team had released information to the press without the science having gone through peer review.
Zameel Cader, a consultant neurologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, said that while the work sounds very exciting, it is not yet possible to judge its impact.
“When someone makes such an extraordinary claim as this, you have to be cautious until they are willing to reveal their data,” Cader said.
If the team’s claims prove true, the technique could revolutionize personalized medicine.
“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,” Anand said.
You could also test the effect of different environmental toxins on the growing brain, he added.
“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,’” he said.
For now, the team say they are focusing on using the brain for military research, to understand the effect of post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
LIFELONG LOSS: Jiro Hamasumi, who was not quite born when an atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, lost his father and other relatives, but said he thinks about his father daily As Japan marks 75 years since the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the last generation of nuclear bomb survivors is working to ensure their message lives on after them. The “hibakusha” — literally “person affected by the bomb” — have for decades been a powerful voice calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. There are an estimated 136,700 left, many of whom were infants or soon to be born at the time of the attacks. The average age of a survivor now is a little over 83, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, lending an urgency as they share their testimonies