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The team hopes this can one day be used to treat or even cure developmental issues in the brain, which lead to diseases

Researchers have created mini replicas of human brains for the purpose of studying development and causes of diseases, and while the brains aren't fully functional, they've provided some interesting insight. 

Researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) in Vienna, Austria -- led by Juergen Knoblich and Madeline Lancaster -- have used stem cells to create small human brain models. These models can never be conscious, and they lack some aspects of the human brain right now, but they're great for understanding the brain's development process under certain circumstances. 

The team took induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are adult cells reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells, and provided them with nutrients needed for proper brain development. This caused the stem cells to differentiate into neuroectoderm tissue, which holds the cells that become the nervous system. 
 
This tissue was put in a gel scaffold to create a 3D structure, and in less than one month's time, the cells turned into tiny brains at about 3 to 4 millimeters across. They also developed parts of the cortex, and about 70 percent contained a choroid plexus (for the production of spinal fluid) while about 10 percent contained retinal tissue.
 

 
The cerebellum, which is the part of the brain responsible for motor skills and language, is missing from the small brain models because this region develops later than the others.

The brains are about the size of human brains during early fetal development, and they're not larger because the stem cells would need to differentiate into blood vessels and supply nutrients to the growing organ. This is a challenging task, but if the team found a way to do this, it would allow for later stages of brain development -- meaning the ability to study more diseases like autism and schizophrenia.

But even with the brains at their current stages and size, researchers have gained insight on a condition called microcephaly, which is when a fetal brain sometimes doesn't reach full size. 

Using iPS cells derived from a person with the condition, the team grew tiny brains to watch the early stages of brain development in an effort to see what goes wrong. The stem cells undergo a phase where they divide to make more stem cells, and after that, some of these stem cells switch to producing neurons. But through watching a microcephalic brain, the team found that stem cell multiplication was shorter than usual, meaning that there are not enough stem cells available to turn into neurons -- leading to a smaller brain.

They discovered that the lack of neurons was due to the need for a protein called CDK5RAP2. Once this protein was given to the small brains, the neurons increased in number. 

The team hopes this can one day be used to treat or even cure developmental issues in the brain, which lead to diseases. 

Source: New Scientist



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bioethics
By OS on 8/29/2013 3:11:05 PM , Rating: 2

This seems like a bioethics problem, if it is actually a human brain, if it develops enough it could have conscious thoughts and awareness, and this would be like perpetual confinement and abuse.




RE: bioethics
By melgross on 8/29/2013 3:39:38 PM , Rating: 2
There is going to be a very long time before anyone has to worry about that, if ever.


RE: bioethics
By Ammohunt on 8/29/2013 3:39:46 PM , Rating: 2
You just described most interweb users lives..


RE: bioethics
By Khenglish on 8/29/2013 4:01:23 PM , Rating: 2
I'm curious about what "life begins at conception" people think of this. I'm with you that it would be wrong when consciousness and awareness begin, but if this group is consistent with their thinking then they should have issues with any experimentation with this at all.

My understanding is that this brain development is equivalent to a 5-6 week old fetus.


RE: bioethics
By MrBlastman on 8/29/2013 4:20:39 PM , Rating: 2
Until we understand exactly how things like memory is created and stored the ethics conversation can be shelved. For now, experiment away.

Being able to solve in-utero neurological problems will prevent many tragic births and years of parental struggle before the child is ever born. I argue that the benefits derived from this far outweigh any ethical worries for now. They'd also save many pregnant women from months of needless worrying, also.


RE: bioethics
By NellyFromMA on 8/29/2013 4:58:17 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously? Shelf the ethics conversation in the name of experimentation?

The entire reason for conversations surrounding ethics in science is to prevent unethical experimentation. The lack of scientific understanding about when "memory is created and stored" isn't an excuse to cross the line.

I won't even bother to share my opinion on this because it will just detract from my point above.


RE: bioethics
By Reclaimer77 on 8/29/2013 4:33:48 PM , Rating: 2
How could this possibly develop a consciousness? There's just no way. It's a collection of brain-like cells we just grew. It doesn't even seem possible for a true human consciousness to form from this.


RE: bioethics
By retrospooty on 8/29/2013 5:23:22 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't mind growing a 2nd brain... Send it to work all day while my Brain sleeps, then I wake refreshed and ready to go at the end of the day.

What could possibly go wrong?


RE: bioethics
By nafhan on 8/29/2013 5:36:38 PM , Rating: 2
Well... what causes consciousness to develop? What is consciousness? Until we can answer those questions, you really can't say things like:
quote:
It doesn't even seem possible for a true human consciousness to form from this.
Honestly, you're just a collection of brain-like cells with some meat around it.


RE: bioethics
By Reclaimer77 on 8/29/13, Rating: -1
RE: bioethics
By ClownPuncher on 8/30/2013 1:31:11 PM , Rating: 2
Until there is proof that the cells can become self aware (which in all likelyhood, they cannot), keep experimenting.


RE: bioethics
By SlyNine on 9/2/2013 5:17:42 AM , Rating: 1
the brain is part of the CNV. It would be more accurate to say that the CNV is incomplete.

But who said it takes a whole CNV to feel pain, or be self aware, which I don't think is a requirement of this being wrong (dogs are not considered self aware yet torturing them is considered wrong).

His "sophomoric scrawlings" as your ad hominem attack suggested, makes a valid point; one that you decided to evade by attacking the arguer instead of the argument.

We do not know what causes us to be conscious. when you can explain how networks of neurons that either fire or don't fire can form our thoughts, feelings, and emotions; indeed all of our perceptions. Then I'll accept that you know enough to make the claims you are making. until then feel free to debate on pure conjecture.

With all that said, I'm all for this research.


RE: bioethics
By Jeffk464 on 8/29/2013 8:16:06 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Well... what causes consciousness to develop? What is consciousness? Until we can answer those questions, you really can't say things like:


I cant see it developing without any kind of input. No eyes, no ears, no sense of touch, no sense of smell, no experience or understanding of anything.


RE: bioethics
By Adonlude on 8/29/2013 5:47:57 PM , Rating: 2
That is the question isn't it? Can a brain grown with no sensory input gain consciousness? Tabula rasa or pre-ordained thought, that is a big question.


RE: bioethics
By marvdmartian on 8/30/2013 7:36:43 AM , Rating: 2
That's okay, we can still use the mini brains, by transplanting them into politicians. God knows, it'd still be more than they have now!


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