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
The lessons in action (Copyright: EuroStemCell)
Not many researchers go directly into schools to teach science lessons, but that’s what Professor Ian Chambers from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine did when he teamed up with EuroStemCell science communicator Emma Kemp. They have just published an academic paper on their experience of bringing stem cell research into schools. Here’s what they learned.
Not all schoolchildren want to grow up to be scientists, but they can be enthused about science, and equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand the relevance of science to their lives and decision-making.
Lots of adults can remember a particular time when they got the science bug. For Ian, this was a visit to a university lab aged 13. For Emma, it was her first physics teacher’s enthusiastic introduction to fundamental questions about the universe. We wanted to provide some moments like these to high school students, and we started with Ian’s old high school, the very one that had taken him on that early university visit. Read more