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How to create ‘wired miniature brains’

Jun. 13, 2024.
2 min. read 1 Interactions

Paves the way for advanced research on autism, schizophrenia and other neurological disorders and microgravity effects in space (new study)

About the writer

Amara Angelica

198.01421 MPXR

Electronics engineer and inventor

Brain organoid (credit: UC San Diego Professor Alysson Muotri)

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have created highly realistic brain cortical organoids—miniature artificial brains with functioning neural networks.

The new technique, published in Nature Protocols, will enable scientists to perform more advanced research, according to Alysson Muotri, senior author and director of the UC San Diego Sanford Stem Cell Institute (SSCI) Integrated Space Stem Cell Orbital Research Center, in a statement.

Neurological disorders

The new research ranges from autism to schizophrenia (and other neurological disorders in which electrical activity is altered), testing potentially therapeutic drugs and gene therapies before patient use and screening for efficacy and side effects.

Previous methods of creating brain organoids have not enabled researchers to study the brain’s electrical activity, says Muotri. The new method enables researchers to study neural networks created from the stem cells of patients with various neurodevelopmental conditions. These new tiny replicas of the human brain are so realistic they rival “the complexity of the fetal brain’s neural network,” he said.

Organoids in space

Muotri and researchers at the Federal University of Amazonas in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil, are also teaming up to record and investigate Amazonian tribal remedies for Alzheimer’s disease.

In March, Muotri—in partnership with NASA—sent brain organoids to space. The organoids were made from the stem cells of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The payload was returned in May 2024 for testing.

Microgravity

Using microgravity (experienced by astronauts in space) the researchers plan to mimic an accelerated version of Earth-based aging, allowing the researchers to witness the effects of several years of disease progression while studying the month-long mission’s payload, including potential changes in protein production, signaling pathways, oxidative stress and epigenetics. Other research possibilities for the brain organoids include disease modeling and understanding human consciousness, says Muotri.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a grant from the Department of Defense, and a “Humans in Space” grant by Boryung in Korea.

Citation: Fitzgerald, M. Q., Chu, T., Puppo, F., Blanch, R., Chillón, M., Subramaniam, S., & Muotri, A. R. (2024). Generation of “semi-guided” cortical organoids with complex neural oscillations. Nature Protocols, 1-27. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41596-024-00994-0

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