Scientists have grown an almost-complete brain that will be used to learn about brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and to test new drugs.
The brain “organoid” was made from skin cells in a laboratory dish and is the size of a pencil eraser.
It is comparable to what would be found within a five-week-old foetus, with 99% of its genes being the same as what would be in a foetal brain. It also has a spinal cord and the beginnings of an eye.
Lead researcher Professor Rene Anand, from Ohio State University in the US, said: “We’ve struggled for a long time trying to solve complex brain disease problems that cause tremendous pain and suffering.
“The power of this brain model bodes very well for human health because it gives us better and more relevant options to test and develop therapeutics other than rodents.”
The scientists involved are not revealing all of their secrets but it has been reported that the organoid was allowed to grow the equivalent of around 12 weeks in the womb, almost making the brain five-weeks-old.
The scientists have made brain organoid models of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism so far and, once blood circulation is added, they hope to use the model for stroke therapy study.
Professor Anand was speaking about the work at a military health system research symposium in Florida, with possible military uses of the model including research into Gulf War syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
He said: “If we let it go to 16 or 20 weeks that might complete it, filling in that 1% of missing genes.”