When I was in High School all my curiosity on bacterial cultures ended up on a petri dish and most of them bore no fruit. I thought the ability of a computer to talk to the brain was a great achievement but this latest discovery is different and revolutionary. Biological chemistry and pharmacology professor Rene Anand from Ohio State University claims to have grown a nearly complete human brain in his lab that is about as mature as the brain of a 5-week-old fetus.
The brain is small in size and contains 99 percent of the genes found in a complete human brain. “It not only looks like the developing brain, its diverse cell types express nearly all genes like a brain,” Anand said.
Surprisingly, the brain has a spinal cord, signaling circuitry and even a retina despite of it being so tiny. The only thing that the man made brain misses is consciousness. “We don’t have any sensory stimuli entering the brain. This brain is not thinking in any way,” The scientist said.
“I grew the brain by converting regular adult skin cells into pluripotent stem cells that can be programmed to grow into any kind of bodily tissue.” Anand explained.
“Once a cell is in that pluripotent state, it can become any organ – if you know what to do to support it to become that organ,” Anand added. “The brain has been the holy grail because of its enormous complexity compared to any other organ.”
The scientist was able to achieve this by mimicking the conditions that naturally occur in utero in his lab and 15 weeks later he had grown the equivalent of a 5-week-old fetal human brain. He was unable to build a bigger brain because after five weeks the brain needs a vascular system.
“We’d need an artificial heart to help the brain grow further in development,” Anand said.
How important is the man made brain? Well, the lab brain could provide a platform to test treatments for brain conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or post-traumatic stress disorder and opens a link for researchers to make extremely personalized medicine.
“If you have an inherited disease, for example, you could give us a sample of skin cells, we could make a brain and then ask what’s going on,” Anand said.