They’re growing miniature human brains from stem cells.

Reuters plunges headlong into THE FUTURE with Austrian researchers who are growing miniature brains – “cerebral organoids” – from stem cells:

To create their brain tissue, Juergen Knoblich and Madeline Lancaster at Austria’s Institute of Molecular Biotechnology and fellow researchers at Britain’s Edinburgh University Human Genetics Unit began with human stem cells and grew them with a special combination of nutrients designed to capitalize on the cells’ innate ability to organize into complex organ structures.

They grew tissue called neuroectoderm – the layer of cells in the embryo from which all components of the brain and nervous system develop.

Fragments of this tissue were then embedded in a scaffold and put into a spinning bioreactor – a system that circulates oxygen and nutrients to allow them to grow into cerebral organoids.

After a month, the fragments had organized themselves into primitive structures that could be recognized as developing brain regions such as retina, choroid plexus and cerebral cortex, the researchers explained in a telephone briefing.

At two months, the organoids reached a maximum size of around 4 millimeters (0.16 inches), they said. Although they were very small and still a long way from resembling anything like the detailed structure of a fully developed human brain, they did contain firing neurons and distinct types of neural tissue.

“This is one of the cases where size doesn’t really matter,” Knoblich told reporters.

“Our system is not optimized for generation of an entire brain and that was not at all our goal. Our major goal was to analyze the development of human brain (tissue) and generate a model system we can use to transfer knowledge from animal models to a human setting.”