How Can the Brain Be Grown in Vitro?

To investigate how our brain works, neuroscientists conduct experiments on the brains of rodents, primates and dead humans, or in a flat layer of neurons that live in the nutrient medium in vitro.  The human cortex has six layers that have different types of neurons.  To understand how the brain carries out cognitive functions at the molecular-cellular level, researchers need to analyze both the structural and functional features of each layer and the subtle aspects of the interconnection between layers.

Ideally, researchers would like to have a volumetric cell model of the fully recreated brain structure.  Experiments conducted by researchers from Stanford University is one of the latest developments along this way.  Sergiu Rosca and his colleagues have obtained neurons from stem cells induced from human cells.  It is known that stem cells are the only human cells that can be transformed by differentiation into the cells of various organs and tissues performing different functions.  Induction of stem cells is the process of genetic reprogramming of ordinary cells into stem cells.  In the experiment, the stem cells induced from human skin cells created a structure similar to that of the cerebral cortex of the human brain.  Eighty percent of the cells transformed themselves to become similar to the brain cells in their molecular structure and other properties.  Moreover, 7% of the stem cells were transformed into auxiliary cells such as the astrocytes and glia – the brain cells which support and nourish the neurons, defend them against harmful substances and regulate neuron activity.  Therefore, the researchers were able to develop brain cells, neurons and glia cells sharing  an identical genetic code.   This result is tremendously important for the future study of the brain .

Scientists from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences have also successfully grown human brain tissue in a 3-D culture system.  The researchers have created special conditions to transform stem cells into brain cells.  The neurobiologists produced “a mini brain” that consists of several discrete brain regions.  They been able to develop a brain replica model to study the processes of the central nervous system’s early development.

The results of these experiments to ate give us hope that neuroscientists will soon be able to produce the full brain in vitro, or at least some part of it, in order to investigate the human brain more accurately.




Svetlana Stroganova, Nikolai Shmelev

Leave a Reply