Scientists grow mini human brain in laboratory

In a feat that could transform the study of neurological disorders, scientists have grown a miniature "human brain" the size of a pea.

The structures in the mini-brain had developed to the same level of as those in a nine-week-old foetus, but were not capable of thought.

The team from the Austrian Academy of Sciences had already used the technique to study some developmental defects and said they hoped to be able to use it in research of autism and schizophrenia disorders.

The miniature brain, called a cerebral organoid, was made using stem cells and had components similar to that of a brain of a 9 or 10 week old embryo. According to researchers, the 3D model would be beneficial in the study of conditions linked to brain related issues such as autism and schizophrenia.

The miniature brain was created by a team of researchers headed by Juergen Knoblich, a stem cell researcher at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna.

The researchers placed stem cells in a petri dish, which supported the development of cells of only the central nervous system and in which development of most of the different types of embryonic conditions stopped. The remaining tissue was transferred to a three-dimensional scaffold for advanced development, before its transfer to a spinning bioreactor.

The bioreactor made for better nutrient and oxygen supply to support the organoid for up to 9 weeks. Beyond the point, oxygen and nutrients are unable to reach the interior of the brain, which made them develop differently from a normal brain.

According to Knoblich though, he had to be a bit pessimistic about this, because the ultimate complexity of the brain would not allow any replacement of structures. He added further that he was not interested in growing a larger more complex brain as the technology to do so was not in existence today.