Remote Neural Monitoring

Lab-grown mini-brains that snap together like building blocks could help scientists treat schizophrenia and autism

Harry Petit
The Daily Mail

This animation shows a cerebral organoid, or mini-brain, grown in a laboratory. It contains a diversity of cell types and internal structures that can make it a good stand-in for an actual brain in experiments (credit: Brown University)
Scientists could soon grow mini-brains by snapping together living parts like building blocks thanks to a newly developed technique. This sped-up animation shows the connecting cells of two ‘organoids’ created by researchers (credit: Yale University)

Scientists could soon grow mini-brains by snapping together living parts like building blocks thanks to a newly developed technique.

Researchers have created pea-sized ‘organoids’ – distinct, three-dimensional replicas of regions of the brain.

These regions can connect together to form a functioning mini-mind that can help scientists to understand how the brain develops.

Experts say the technique could also help researchers study degenerative brain diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.

The researchers, from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, used stem cells to create and fuse two types of organoids from different brain regions.

They did this to show how the developing brain maintains proper balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurons.

A failure to maintain this balance has been linked with a host of developmental brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

‘The inhibitory neurons migrate from specific areas of the embryonic brain to the region where excitatory neurons are being produced,’ said study lead author Dr In-Hyun Park.

‘What we did is to fuse these two areas and watched the process unfold.’

The Yale team used human stem cells, some derived from blood and others from embryonic stem cells, to grow an organoid called the human medial ganglionic eminence (MGE).

The MGE produces inhibitory neurons and plays a crucial but brief role in early development of the brain’s cortex region.

By merging this structure with another that produces excitatory neurons they were able to track the movement of the inhibitory cells.

These provide a crucial ‘brake’ on excitatory neurons and so are needed to stop the development of several serious conditions linked to brain over-activity.

Understanding the process will not only help researchers study how the brain evolved, but also shed light on how imbalances contribute to many neurological disorders.

For instance, excess excitatory neuron activity has been linked to schizophrenia, while too much inhibitory neuronal activity may cause depression.

Evidence suggests that in these conditions, Dr Park toldĀ Quanta: ‘There seems to be an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neural activity.

‘So those diseases can be studied using the current model that we’ve developed.’

The imbalance has also been linked to development of autism spectrum disorders, he said.

The mini-brains in existence today are a long way from the complexity of a real brain, meaning their use in research is limited.

Scientists have also had problems with consistency, finding that the organs rarely grow uniformly even when developed using the same growth protocols and starting materials.

But the new organoid technique allows for highly replicable modules of developing brain parts to be snapped together like building blocks.

The Yale team suggest this technique could one day allow for a higher level of mini-brain complexity and consistency.

MINI-BRAINS

The mini-brains in existence today are a long way from the complexity of a real brain, meaning their use in research is limited.

Scientists have also had problems with consistency, finding that each organ rarely grows in the same way even when developed using the same growth protocols and starting materials.

A new mini-brain growth technique using small ‘organoids’ allows for highly replicable modules of developing brain parts to be snapped together like building blocks.

The team, from Yale University in Connecticut, say this technique could allow for a higher level of mini-brain complexity and consistency.

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