Neurology Central

Organoids: grow your own brain

Jenny Straiton explores the miniature world of organoids and discusses how these small models are making big changes in the world of neurological research.

Initially, scientists learned about disorders when disaster happened – Paul Broca made his mark when he linked posterior left frontal lobe damage to speech production; losing his hippocampus made Henry Molaison, better known as H.M., the world’s most famous amnesiac; and being run through with a railroad spike turned Phineas Gage into a psychological phenomenon.

Later, neuroscientists relied on in vitro cell cultures or animal models to see what was happening. Although less devastating for the subjects, this route still has many limitations. A rat’s brain is significantly different to a human brain, particularly regarding the cortex, and a single type of cell in a dish can in no way represent the magnitude or the complexity of the human brain as a whole.

The limitations shown in the traditional methods of neurological research raised an important question, as summarized by Sergiu Pasca of Stanford University (CA, USA): “Can we capture in a dish more of these elaborate processes that are underlying brain development and brain function?”

The answer? Yes; scientists have developed ways to take stem cells and grow cerebral organoids (Figure 1), or ‘mini-brains’, which, as they grow, model the development of the human brain.

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