Pea-size human brain grown in US lab

This annotated image obtained on Aug 19, 2015, courtesy of Ohio State University shows an organoid with labels pointing to the identifiable structures.
This annotated image obtained on Aug 19, 2015, courtesy of Ohio State University shows an organoid with labels pointing to the identifiable structures.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • An almost complete version of a tiny human brain has been grown in a US lab in a move that could bring major strides to the treatment of neurological diseases, a scientist says.

Dr Rene Anand, a professor at Ohio State University, has grown in a dish a brain equal in maturity to that of a five-week-old foetus, his university reported.

"It not only looks like the developing brain, its diverse cell types also express nearly all genes like a brain," Prof Anand said.

Around the size of a pea, the brain in a lab dish includes multiple cell types, all major regions of the brain and a spinal cord, but lacks a vascular system, the university said.

It was grown from human skin cells and is claimed to be the most complete brain of its type grown so far.

Prof Anand presented his research at a military health event in Florida on Tuesday.

Major scientific advances are usually published in peer-reviewed journals, where the claims are assessed independently before they are made public.

Prof Anand and a colleague have co-founded an Ohio start-up company to commercialise the brain growth system, according to the university.

Prof Anand expects that the grown brain will allow easier and more ethical testing of drugs' effects on the mind, as scientists seek cures for brain disease and nervous system disorders, the school said.

"The power of this brain model bodes very well for human health because it gives us better and more relevant options to test and develop therapeutics other than rodents," Prof Anand said in a university report on his research.

It could also be a boon for general neuroscience research as the brain allows a hands-on approach in genome studies rather than the computer models currently used.

"Mathematical correlations and statistical methods are insufficient in themselves to identify causation. You need an experimental system - you need a human brain," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Pea-size human brain grown in US lab'. Print Edition | Subscribe