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Lab-grown human mini-brains
via University of Cambridge

Here’s how scientists are keeping lab-grown human mini-brains alive

Cambridge researchers found that by thinly slicing the tiny organs, they can live for a year

Remember those mini-brains that started spontaneously growing eyes from a couple of months back? If not, let us fill you in: scientists were studying some lab-grown “brain organoids” which grew two “symmetrical optic cups” that could observe light, comprising a new, nightmarish form of being.

As it turns out, mini-organs are being increasingly cultivated to study diseases and disorders, with Cambridge researchers using them to repair damaged livers, study COVID lung infections, and model the early stages of pregnancy via mini-placentas, among other areas of research.

The mini-brains, which are typically around the size of a pea, are allowing scientists to look at neurological disorders like ones causing paralysis and dementia, but because oxygen and nutrients can’t penetrate their core, they end up dying.

Now, researchers have found that by thinly slicing the brains, they can achieve the feat of growing them in a dish for more than a year. This was accomplished by growing brain cells into a ball, before slicing it up into thin pieces, while allowing the structure to retain its internal tissue architecture.

The extended life-span is desirable as scientists studying neurodegenerative diseases want to look at “models that are more long-lived” so they can study how cells interact as the disease progresses.

Dr András Lakatos, the senior author who led the research in Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences, said that in the future it may be possible “to be able to take skin cells from a patient, reprogramme them to grow their ‘mini brain’ and test which unique combination of drugs best suits their disease.”

Which sounds like a horrifying thought at face value, but one that would admittedly be game-changing for neurology. Thanks, science!