Sept. 11 - Scientists have grown human brain tissue from stem cells in a laboratory in Vienna. The researchers say they can replicate the organ's development in its early stages of life in the womb, potentially increasing our understanding of neurological and mental disorders. Jim Drury reports.
It's the first three-dimensional human brain tissue grown in a laboratory....and it could help revolutionise the study of neural disorders like alzheimers and autism at their earliest developmental stages. . The pink flashes are firing neurons, signs that viable brain tissue has been generated. Lead researcher Juergen Knoblich, of Vienna's Institute of Molecular Biology, says he's excited by his team's achievement. SOUNDBITE (English) RESEARCHER, JUERGEN KNOBLICH, SAYING: "The tissues that we have generated are not functional brains. What they are is, they are developing brains......We have already used it to understand a rare human genetic neurological disorder that is called microcephaly, but this is a rare disorder, and for the future we hope that we or other labs will be able to use this system to model more common diseases like schizophrenia or autism." The tissue evolved from human stem cells developed with nutrients, and grown on a gel scaffold to form what are known as organoids. Up to four millimetres in length, the organoids - here swirling in a test tube - include parts of the cortex, hippocampus and retina. One region not present is the cerebellum which is formed later in human embryos. The organoids could never form any level of consciousness and are far from fully-functioning brains....but Knoblich thinks they're perfectly suited to test the effects of drugs on humans. SOUNDBITE (English) RESEARCHER, JUERGEN KNOBLICH, SAYING: "Drugs and toxic chemicals are tested mostly in animal models, but then transferring this knowledge to humans, asking how would they actually act on human tissue, is incredibly difficult. And this is actually the biggest threshold in pharmaceutical research. And these organoids, whether it is our brains or whether it's the gut organoids from other labs, or the eye organoids, will allow scientists to do experiments directly on human tissues." Models of other human organs, like eyes and livers, have been grown in the lab, but Koblich and his partners at Edinburgh University think this is even more significant. They hope these organoids will open doors to new areas of research and solve some of medical science's deepest mysteries.