“Organoid” brain tissue models grown in a lab for two years can help scientists study a critical period of development just before and after birth.
Researchers are growing little balls of human brain tissue, about four millimeters in diameter, from stem cells in the lab. They’re optimistic this tissue engineering will bring about a sea change in basic brain research, disease modeling, and personalized medicine.
Over the past five years, scientists have worked to make these “mini-brains,” or cerebral organoids, more like the real thing.
But the changes in brain composition across that broad span of time can be profound at even the subcellular level, a fact that would seem to curb the research value of early fetal mini-brains.
A study recently published in Neuron shows the research team may have hurdled that obstacle by pushing mini-brains to unprecedented longevity.
They’ve nurtured their cerebral organoids for nearly two years — making them some of the longest-lasting human cell cultures on record. Some of the organoids persist even now, at over 850 days.
“Now we can really start to ask questions about what could go awry later in fetal development to lead to psychiatric disorder.”