Scientists from Ohio University, United States have grown an almost fully formed human brain in the lab using adult stem cells through reprogramming stem cell technology. This miniature, eraser-sized, non-conscious human brain is compared to that of a five week old foetus brain. This brain model would be potentially used to study the progression of neurological and developmental diseases, test new drugs for the treatment of medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s etc.
According to Rene Anand of Ohio University who presented this work at Military Health System Research Symposium, Florida, it is the most complete human brain model developed so far. Previous attempts have only created partial brain-like mini organs that lack many functions of an actual brain. However, Anand claims that he and his colleagues have managed to recreate the entire brain consisting of 99% of diverse foetal brain cells and genes along with a budding spinal cord, retina and even a signaling circuitry.
The miniature brain model is engineered using induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology to reprogram the adult human skin cells. Using iPSC technology, skin cells can be coaxed to form stem cells which are capable of differentiating into any type of body cell, in this case, a fully grown brain. These coaxed stem cells were left on a specialized environment to form various components of brain and central nervous system. At present, it takes 12 weeks for the scientists to create the fully grown brain model, resembling the brain of a 5 week old foetus. To further develop the model, the team requires a network of blood vessels and artificial heart to help the brain show further development.
Anand also mentioned that the brain do not have any sensory stimuli entering the brain therefore it cannot think in any way. Thus, there are no ethical issues concerning the research. Anand has kept the details of the research data wrapped up due to the pending patents. If the technique proves to be true, it can bring a revolution in the field of personalized medicine. “If you have an inherited disease, you could give us a sample of skin cells, we could make a brain (model) and then ask what is going on,” said Anand.
Some of the possible benefits of creating a human brain model may include:
- Possibility of testing the effects of various environmental toxins on the growing model.
- Check the expression of every gene in the human genome at every step of growth and recommend personalized treatment options.
- Study the effects of post traumatic stress disorders and brain injuries.
- Understand the drug mechanism in developmental conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injuries.
These developments can take stem cell therapy and research to the next level in medical world which will help millions of patients across the world.