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Starting with Stem Cells: Scientists Create ‘Minibrains’ for Research

September 19, 2019

Scientist holding test tube with liquid in it

Scientists have studied the human brain for millennia, but only recently have they been cultivating brains – well, “minibrains” – from scratch: Researchers at University of California San Diego have programmed human stem cells to grow the pea-sized organoids of brain tissue in the lab.

The organoids, which developed for 10 months, consist of tissue resembling the outer layer of the brain, the cortex. As Nature reports, they display electrical activity in patterns resembling those in premature infants and may someday be useful in studying brain development and disorders like epilepsy and autism.

Researchers don’t seem to believe there’s any consciousness in the organoids; they lack certain cell types of the cortex and are not connected to other brain regions, lead researcher Alysson R. Muotri, Ph.D., told Nature. He is professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

Reviving history, foreshadowing through human stem cells

Muotri’s lab has also created Neanderoids, which are minibrain organoids derived from stem cells engineered to include Neanderthal DNA. Science called Neanderoids a “provocative if preliminary” way to study the Neanderthal brain in contrast to the conventional way, which is looking at cavities in fossilized skulls. Quipped Muotri, “We’re trying to recreate Neanderthal minds.”

In July, Muotri’s lab sent more than 100 brain organoids to the International Space Station. “We will be able to continuously observe the formation of the neural tube, including cell migration, cell-cell interaction, cell division and death,” said Muotri. “This will be the first in a series of space flights to help us understand the intricacies of brain development, both in weightlessness and on Earth.”

Hematopoietic stem and immune cells drive research

This astonishing work illustrates the importance of primary stem cells for research.

At iSpecimen, our specimen focus includes hematopoietic stem and immune cells. We have assembled one of the industry’s largest, most integrated networks of donors and specimen collection sites available. Through the iSpecimen Marketplace, researchers can efficiently procure bone marrow aspirate, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (normal and mobilized), and whole blood – all with corresponding donor profile/clinical data from healthy and diseased donors. Researchers use these types of tissue and cell products to develop stem cell therapies, immunotherapies, vaccines, diagnostics, new treatments for infectious and autoimmune diseases, and in cell-based assays to advance drug discovery/preclinical development.

Although our clients aren’t creating minibrains (that we know of), they’re doing equally remarkable things to advance modern medicine.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.

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