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May 22, 2024

Scientists Grow Mini-Brains from Human Fetal Tissue to Study Neurodevelopment

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Jan 9, 2024

In a breakthrough that could revolutionize neuroscience research, scientists have for the first time developed three-dimensional “mini-brains” or brain organoids grown from human fetal brain tissue. These organoids offer unprecedented potential to study early brain development and model neurodevelopmental disorders.

Fetal Tissue Enables Growth of Complex Brain Structures

The organoids, described in a paper published January 4th in the journal Nature, contain various brain regions that develop intricate neuronal layers and networks. This level of organization has not been achieved before in brain organoids without the use of fetal tissue.

As lead author Dr. Alysson Muotri of UC San Diego School of Medicine explains:

“We are now able to generate brain organoids that develop much further than those we have created with induced pluripotent stem cells. These organoids form all six layers of the human cerebral cortex and subcortical structures, such as the basal ganglia and retina, and contain functional neural networks. This means we can study complex cell interactions between different brain regions.”

By providing a foundation of already partially specialized cells, the fetal tissue allows the organoids to self-organize into structures resembling the mid-gestation human fetal brain. Imaging shows the presence of neurons throughout the organoids forming long-range connections.

Hopes to Model Neurodevelopmental Disorders

A major motivation of this research is to create better models of neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disabilities. By containing complex structures across brain regions, the fetal tissue-derived organoids may more accurately represent how functional circuits are disrupted in these conditions.

Co-author Dr. Arnold Kriegstein comments:

“With these brain organoids we can investigate anatomical and functional differences that arise early during human neurodevelopment. This will help us understand what goes awry in disorders where normal brain wiring fails to occur.”

To demonstrate possible clinical applications, the team used CRISPR gene editing to introduce a mutation linked to ASD into the organoids. They found this led to abnormal neural activity as neurons struggled to communicate with each other.

Ethical Considerations Around Fetal Tissue

The research highlights debates around use of fetal tissue from elective abortions. Opponents argue this may encourage more abortions, while proponents counter that the tissue would otherwise be discarded and using it promises medical advances that could save lives.

Bioethicist Prof. Janet Wong provides perspective:

“This study shows fetal tissue organoids can form intricate structures not seen before. So there are valid arguments this research is justified and should continue with appropriate oversight. However, we must have serious conversations around ethical sourcing and use of such tissue.”

Moving forward, the research team aims to extend this technique to model later stages of brain development and function. They also hope to reduce reliance on fetal tissue by discovering factors guiding self-organization of neurons.

Looking to the Future

With access to complex circuitry across brain regions, researchers see great potential to unlock mysteries of human brain evolution and development.

Dr. Muotri concludes:

“Studying brain disorders has been hampered by lack of accessibility during embryonic development. These organoids create exciting opportunities to see how the human brain is built, gain insights into neurological conditions, and possibly screen drugs to treat them.”

While questions remain around ethics and future directions, this latest innovation represents a quantum leap in modeling the intricate workings of our most complex and mysterious organ.

Timeline of Key Events

Year Milestone
2021 First brain organoids created from human stem cells
2023 Organoids begin showing new levels of structural organization and neural maturity
January 2024 Breakthrough organoids with fetal tissue described showing extensive regions and connectivity
2025 Aim to reduce reliance on fetal tissue
2030 Potential for screening and testing drug treatments

So in summary, this latest achievement of complex 3D mini-brain models brings neuroscience to the edge of a new era. Despite ethical debates, the promise of unraveling mysteries like autism and shaping future therapies cautions against outright rejection of fetal tissue’s immense research value. With stringent oversight and moving toward reduced dependence, scientists urge we responsibly follow where unprecedented access to human neurodevelopment leads.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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