A Harvard medical pioneer calls it “astounding” — an “incredible achievement” and a “quantum leap forward” in the battle against cancer, autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
What’s going on? Scientists at Ohio State University say they’ve figured out a way to grow the genetic equivalent of a nearly complete embryonic human brain.
Technically, they’re not quite “brains.” They’re called brain organoids — pieces of human tissue grown in petri dishes from skin cells.
These little blobs of tissue, 2-3 millimeters long, could help researchers test drugs and other treatments that may help prevent, fight and maybe even cure some of the most devastating disorders and diseases of our time.
In addition to Parkinson’s disease, autism and Alzheimer’s disease, they could also lead to unlocking the mysteries of schizophrenia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Millions of people suffer from all these disorders and diseases worldwide.
“The idea of taking skin cells, reverting them back to a basic stage of development and then teaching them how to turn into the cells that make up the brain is something we have been dreaming about for some time,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “It is exponentially closer to reality now. Furthermore, the idea of using these ‘mini brains’ as a testing ground for therapies could help doctors figure out the best treatments for individual patients as opposed to the ‘one size fits all’ approach that is often used nowadays.”
Scientists have been making brain tissue organoids in the lab for less than a decade.
Japanese scientists were among the first to prompt cells from mice and humans to form “layered balls reminiscent” of a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, according to the science journal, Nature. In 2011, Madeline Lancaster, a scientist a the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, was able to grow an embryonic brain.
Ohio State biomedical researcher Rene Anand said his team’s work is different because “our organoids have most of the brain parts.”
“I’ll give you one example: If you want to study Parkinson’s, you need the mid-brain. The best I can tell from all published research on organoids is they don’t have the mid-brain. We have the mid-brain we are already moving toward trying to study them.”
Anand said he has grown organoids that include 98% of cells that exist in a brain of a human fetus at five weeks.
“I think it took all of us by surprise,” Dr. Rudolph Tanzi — an Alzheimer’s research pioneer at Harvard told CNN. “The results were absolutely astounding … it’s an incredible achievement.”
(Click here to read the full article, written by Thom, Patterson, CNN)