Scientists take first step towards growing brains in a lab

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Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could somehow re-grow limbs and organs as needed? That’s exactly what bioengineers specialize in. They’ve already successfully created things like tracheas and kidneys using stem cells, but the final frontier of their research could be the growing of functional brain cells.

Growing brain cells is far more difficult than growing other types of biological cells. The brain is a very complex piece of natural machinery with cells that require complicated protein patterns. In fact, if the pattern isn't correct, nerve cells just won’t work the way they’re supposed to. Obviously, this means that recreating these cells in the lab is extremely difficult. However, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden recently had a breakthrough. After removing the neural cells from a rat’s brain tissue, they combined that tissue with a gelatin scaffold. The scientists later added stem cells from another rat to the scaffold. The results were astonishing: those stem cells eventually grew and became neural cells, a very basic version of the brain’s gray matter.

This is obviously just a first step in growing a human brain in a lab, but these results could be useful for helping those affected by diseases that affect the brain, like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. This technique could also help those who suffer from brain injuries. The Swedish team envisions being able to use the scaffold to replace the damaged parts of the brain, with the patient’s central nervous system attaching to it and aiding in the process of creating new neural cells.

This technique requires more research before it can be put to use in humans. For example, we still need to know how much this improves the brain’s functioning, if at all. But it is a major step in not only creating something we haven’t created before, but to also understanding more about the human brain and how we can fix it when it becomes damaged.

Via New Scientist

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