How mini-brains could revolutionise neuroscience | Masters of Science
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How mini-brains could revolutionise neuroscience | Masters of Science


In terms of computational
power, the human brain far surpasses any animal
in the animal kingdom. It’s what makes us
special, but we still don’t understand how it
arises, and so that’s what me and my lab were
trying to figure out. The thing that makes
our brains so special is the number of connections
and the number of neurons. At about 80 to 100
billion neurons, that’s about three times more
than our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. And so it’s thought that
during human brain development neuron production
really skyrockets. But when and how this happens
is completely unknown. So to get the answers
to these questions we’ve turned to growing human
brain tissues in the lab. In the past 10 years
there’s been a revolution in this field,
allowing researchers to generate 3D tissues that
look just like actual organs. And essentially, it involves
taking stem cells, which have this amazing
capacity to develop into any tissue of the body,
including brain tissue, if we give them the
right conditions. And those conditions include
a three-dimensional gel, which essentially
mimics the surrounding tissue of the developing brain. And what’s really amazing
about this is that, when these cells are kept in
just the right conditions, they will then follow their
own natural developmental programme, generating
neurons with the same timing and positioning as an actual
human developing brain. So because we have these 3D
mini brain tissues in a dish, we now have access to
human developing brain tissue in a way that was
never before possible. We can actually
really get hands-on, and start looking inside of
them by taking cross-sections, looking at different cell types,
and comparing different time points to see what
changes over time. We can also do live
imaging and actually watch as human neural stem
cells do generate neurons, and then watch those
neurons position themselves. And this is something that
was never before possible. And so at the moment, we
can observe these processes very well, but what
we’d really like to do is start to challenge
the system and look at what’s controlling the
skyrocketing neuron production that we’re so
interested in, and get at the root of the
question of what makes our brains so unique.

9 thoughts on “How mini-brains could revolutionise neuroscience | Masters of Science

  1. The human mind is like an organic super computer which is capable of quantum computing and much more. Hopefully, the research will discover more about this and use that knowledge to help our species.

  2. Hey, this is a difficult topic to get across. How can we make it more comprehensible?
    I know! Let's add distracting crash zooms and shitty background music – that's bound to help, right?

  3. Hopefully none of those mini brains become conscious and internally scream when they realize that they're a brain in a vat.

    Wouldn't that be considered torture?

  4. They aren't actually mini brains. They're just clusters of cells. Nothing similar to a brain besides that the neurons fire. It's a pretty blah line of experimentation

  5. science used to discover things like cocaine and lsd. now all it has is mini brains. smh. i cant get high on mini brains now can i dear science?

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