The brain is our most delicate and most important organ, and scientists in Singapore have managed to grow a very important part of one. Specifically, the midbrain, located in the brain stem. It controls hearing, eye movement and body movement. And the sample they’ve grown is fully functioning.
This feat is a result of the combined work of researchers from the A*Star Genome Institute of Singapore, the Duke-NUS Medical School and the National Neuroscience Institute. Though other researchers have previously been able to grow their own brain tissue, the team in Singapore have gone a step further. The midbrain tissue they grew is capable of producing neuromelanin, a pigment vital to many of our processes.
This has great implications for the study and eventual cure of diseases like Parkinson’s. The brain of a Parkinson’s sufferer has a deficit of neuromalanin, which is believed to contribute to the degradation and slow death of many parts of the brain. Now that functioning midbrain tissue can be replicated, scientists now have a fertile testing ground for all sorts of neurological diseases.
Potentially, doctors could grow these midbrain specimens themselves from skin cells taken from a Parkinson’s patient (among other diseases) allowing them to access what is essentially a living model of their patient’s brains. This could allow for testing and treatment on a very personalized level, with minimal risk to the patient themselves.
These midbrain organisms are each around 3 millimetres in size and take a month to grow. Despite this, these “mini-brains” are fully functional*, with the neurons “live and firing”.
Isn't science just a beautiful, beautiful thing?