Being able to grow rudimentary brain tissue in the lab means that researchers can study organ development and disease. But how do you go from stem cells to a ‘mini-brain’? Ben Martynoga reports for the Long + Short.
A cross-section of a cerebral organoid or ‘mini-brain’ (Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)
It sounds like witchcraft. Scientists take a sample of your skin, transform the skin cells into stem cells, and from these grow pea-sized blobs of brain. Living, human brain, built from your cells.
Back in 2010, Madeline Lancaster, the inventor of this powerful new procedure, was fresh from her PhD in California, and learning the ropes in a new lab in Vienna. She set out to grow brain cells on the flat bottom of the Petri dish. But many cells refused to stay put: they floated up and massed into small balls. This was a familiar problem, but it piqued Lancaster’s interest.
How big could the balls grow? She encased them in protective jelly and agitated her broth, so nutrients and oxygen could penetrate deeper. Eventually, in 2013, she coaxed them into growing up to several millimetres across.  This was new. Read more
Scientists at the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh won the British Heart Foundation’s Reflections of Research image competition last month. MRC Science Writer Isabel Baker looks at the picture, created with a technique invented by an MRC scientist.
(Image copyright: Dr Gillian Gray, Megan Swim and Harris Morrison/University of Edinburgh/The British Heart Foundation)
It looks more like something that you might find hanging in a modern art gallery than an image produced by one of the most advanced scientific imaging techniques.
But rather than a paintbrush, Dr Gillian Gray and Megan Swim from the Queen’s Medical Research Institute*, and Harris Morrison from the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, created this stunningly detailed image of a mouse heart using a technique called Optical Projection Tomography (OPT). Read more
A cross-section of a cerebral organoid (Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)
Some brain diseases, such as microcephaly, can’t be studied in animals. Now researchers have developed a technique to grow early-stage brain tissue in the lab, opening up possibilities from studying diseases to testing drugs. MRC Senior Press Officer Hannah Isom reports.
As a science press officer, I’m in the privileged position of getting my mitts on some of the most exciting research papers before they are seen by the world’s media, and even by other scientists in the field. Sometimes I worry I’m so awash with impressive discoveries that I’ll become complacent. And then every once in a while a paper lands in my inbox that is so exciting — even to a non-scientist like me — that I know I don’t need to be concerned.
This week in Nature scientists led by the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Austria, in collaboration with the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, have revealed that they have used stem cells to grow a three-dimensional structure in the lab that resembles primitive human brain tissue. Read more