Two new articles published in Nature are the focus of a new Scientific American article: “Mini-Me Brains Mimic Disease, Raise Hope for Eventual Therapies”. One article, “Assembly of Functionally Integrated Human Forebrain Spheroids” focuses on the creation of a new disease model where brain organoids were generated from patients with Timothy syndrome. The other article, “Cell Diversity and Network Dynamics in Photosensitive Human Brain Organoids” describes generation of brain organoids that “develop spontaneous networks and photosensitive neurons that can be modulated by sensory stimulation with light.”
Several researchers who were not a part of the study were interviewed for comment, including Dr. Juergen Knoblich, (whose lab generated the first cerebral organoids in 2013) and Dr. Timothy O’Brien, (who used Cell-Mate3D to generate complex cerebral organoids using only the matrix and iPSC maintenance media.)
Figure 1. Cerebral organoid developed in Dr. Timothy O’Brien’s laboratory containing neural tube-like structures. Nestin (green) Sox1 (red). Courtesy of Dr. Timothy O’Brien at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Knoblish commented on the articles:
“This shows that the approach has much greater potential than we ever imagined.” “They’ve shown that if you keep [the mini-brain] growing for a long enough time, it will generate the whole repertoire of cells we see in the human brain.”
The ethics of mini-brains was also discussed. Dr. O’Brien stated:
“The largest mini-brains-in-a-dish are only 4 millimeters across — roughly the size of a sea slug or jellyfish brain” — and, “a tiny, tiny fraction of the human brain”. “You do see some neural circuits forming, but none that are anywhere near the size needed for sentience, and they are not nearly complicated enough to feel pain.” “Developing better mimics of the human brain will take a lot more time, but maybe less time than we think.”
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