Lab-grown mini-brains will help us gain a better understanding of the real thing

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have developed a rapid, cost-effective method to grow organoid “mini-brains” in a lab. These miniature brains, which replicate the architecture of brains but possess no level of consciousness, are created using stem cells. The researchers hope that these mini-brains will allow us to gain a better understanding of the real brains that they replicate.

“The brain is one of the most complex tissues in the body,” Alysson Muotri, director of the Stem Cell Program at UCSD School of Medicine, told Digital Trends. “While we have a good idea of anatomy and how the adult brain work, the understanding of human brain neurodevelopment is at a very mysterious stage. This is because the intact human embryonic brain grows in utero, and, thus, it is very inaccessible. There [is little information] about how the brain develops, [and] when it starts to function, yet there are many neurological disorders that starts in utero. It is [therefore] very important to learn how the brain develops, both in healthy and disease conditions.”

The mini-brains are created by growing human pluripotent stem cells and then inducing them to form neural progenitor cells. This is achieved using small molecules added to a culture medium. These neural progenitor cells are then prompted to grow in three dimensions and expand, forming a sphere with multiple layers. Finally, the progenitor cells are turned into neurons and a type of glia cell that is also present in the brain, which then matures into a full organoid.

Researchers have been optimizing protocols for creating brain cells in a dish for decades. However, it is only more recently that researchers have learned that it is possible to induce growth in 3D in a way that allows the cells to self-organize in a structure that resembles the early stages of the human embryonic brain. This opens up the possibility of studying the early stages of human neurodevelopment in the lab. Doing so may provide new information about genetic disorders, such as autism, or the different ways in which viruses affect the brain.

To make the process of developing these mini-brains easier, the UCSD researchers have developed a protocol that makes it faster to convert somatic cells into 3D-brain organoids. “Besides cost and time, the biggest advantage is on the throughput,” Muotri continued. “We can now create hundreds of different brain organoids, from different individuals, at the same time.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Stem Cells and Development.

Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene editing creates cocaine-proof mice, aims to crack addiction puzzle

Scientists from the University of Chicago have used CRISPR gene editing to create cocaine-resistant mice by modifying the DNA of skin cells. Here's how the breakthrough skin graft works.
Emerging Tech

Neural networks? Machine learning? Here's your secret decoder for A.I. buzzwords

Don't know your machine learning from your evolutionary algorithms? Worried every time you sit on a bus in case Google's Larry Page sits down next to you with a pop quiz? Our handy A.I. buzzword guide is here to help.
Emerging Tech

What is an artificial neural network? Here’s everything you need to know

Neural networks are behind some of the biggest advances in artificial intelligence. But what exactly is an artificial neural network? Check out our beginner's guide to clue you in.
Home Theater

Still wondering why you should buy a smart TV? Here's what you should consider

If you've been living under a rock, you might wonder: What is a smart TV, anyway? Lucky for you stone-dwellers, we've put together a quick-hit guide to teach you everything you need to know about televisions with big brains.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX to send Japanese billionaire on moon trip, but he won’t be going alone

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has named Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa as the first paying passenger for the company's ambitious 2023 moon mission aboard the Big Falcon Rocket.
Emerging Tech

Smart sound system will give every car passenger their own wireless audio stream

Can't agree on what to listen to in the car? Imagine if each passenger could get their own way, courtesy of a personal audio stream — no headphones required. Sounds impossible, but it's almost here.
Emerging Tech

Japanese billionaire faces tricky task of choosing 8 artists for his moon trip

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has been named as SpaceX's first-ever paying passenger for a trip to the moon in 2023. He says he wants to take eight artists with him. But how will he choose them? And will they accept?
Emerging Tech

Crazy vending machine swaps computer art for your permanent selfie

Coder artist Matthias Dörfelt's camera-equipped vending machine swaps unique prints of computer-generated faces for the rights to upload your selfie onto the main Ethereum blockchain.
Emerging Tech

No more scraping? Anti-frosting advance could mark end of frozen windshields

Hate frozen windshields in winter? Researchers at Virginia Tech may have found a way to banish them for good, thanks to the world’s first passive anti-frosting surface. Here's how it works.
Smart Home

Who needs Stitch Fix? Maison Me uses A.I. to custom design clothing just for you

With backing from Google, a new Silicon Valley-based startup called Maison Me is offering A.I.-assisted, designed-to-order clothing. It's like a personal styling service on steroids.
Emerging Tech

Swiss researcher offers blueprints for animal-friendly autonomous machines

A scientist worries that our high-tech future fails to consider the well-being of other creatures: "Machine ethics has so far concentrated almost exclusively on automatic actions that affect people."
Emerging Tech

The Flamethrower Diet is better than keto and I burned all this food to prove it

When I first caught word that Elon Musk's Boring Company was selling a fully-functional flamethrower, I knew right away that I wanted to use it as a replacement for all of my modern cooking appliances. Why use a microwave when you can use a…
Computing

Facebook appears set on crafting custom silicon for augmented reality devices

Facebook's latest job postings are seeking engineers and developers for custom augmented reality chipsets, and seem to support speculation that the company is looking to produce AR glasses.
Emerging Tech

Don’t be fooled — this automated system sneakily manipulates video content

In the vein of “deep fakes," Recycle-GAN, a new system from Carnegie Mellon University, presents another case for how difficult it will be to distinguish fiction from reality in the future.