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'Mini Brains' Grown From Stem Cells Help To Study Disorders

By Alexandra Ward   |   Thursday, 29 Aug 2013 01:18 PM

A team of Austrian scientists has used stem cells to grow hundreds of mini brains that may help them better understand developmental disorders that can occur during the early stages of life.

Researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences said that the pea-sized structures called "cerebral organoids" are made out of human brain tissue and most closely resemble the brains of 9- or 10-week-old embryos, the team wrote in the journal Nature.

Though the mini brains aren’t functional, all the parts are there, senior study author Juergen Knoblich said during a press conference Wednesday.

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"Development of the human brain is very different from development, for example, of the mouse brain," he said.

According to CNN, the mini brains, though not laid out exactly like normal brains, contain most of the same distinctive features: dorsal cortex, ventral forebrain, choroid plexus — which generates cerebrospinal fluid — and regions that resemble the midbrain and hindbrain.

They are, however, lacking a cerebellum, which is responsible for motor movement, and a hippocampus, which is involved in memory.

"It is very clear that our system is not optimized for generating an entire brain, and that is also in no way our goal," Knoblich said.

Both human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) were used to grow the mini brains. The embryonic stem cells are controversial because they are retrieved from real human embryos. The IPS cells are less divisive because they can be made with any type of cell, though typically skin cells are used. A scientist takes the cell and uses a chemical bath to revert it back to an embryonic state where it can be easily manipulated, the authors explained.

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