Mini lab-grown brains have spontaneously developed rudimentary eye structures, scientists have reported in a fascinating new paper, as they unwittingly create an entirely new nightmarish form of being.
The tiny, human-derived “brain organoids” grown in dishes, grew two “symmetrical optic cups” which apparently mirror the development of eyes on human embryos. If this wasn’t horrifying enough, the eyes appear to be at least partially functional, as they respond to light by sending signals to the rest of the brain tissue.
Researchers hope their work with the smooth brain blobs can help further understanding of the processes of eye differentiation, and in the treatment of eye diseases. “Our work highlights the remarkable ability of brain organoids to generate primitive sensory structures that are light sensitive and harbor cell types similar to those found in the body,” said neuroscientist Jay Gopalakrishnan of University Hospital Düsseldorf in Germany.
“These organoids can help to study brain-eye interactions during embryo development, model congenital retinal disorders, and generate patient-specific retinal cell types for personalised drug testing and transplantation therapies.”
The organoids are made by harvesting adult human stem cells that have the potential to morph into many different types of tissue. The scientists in this instance “coaxed” the cells into creating brain tissue, as using real human brains for an experiment of this type might not be considered ethical.
The carefully nurtured baby brains began forming the sensory structures at around 30 days into the process, and they were clearly visible at 50 days. Beyond this point, the blobs are destined to stare blankly into eternity. If the dish-brains were coaxed into forming mouths, would they simply scream?
"Optic vesicle-containing brain organoids displaying highly specialised neuronal cell types can be developed, paving the way to generate personalised organoids and retinal pigment epithelial sheets for transplantation," the researchers wrote in their paper.
“We believe that (these) are next-generation organoids helping to model retinopathies that emerge from early neurodevelopmental disorders.”