US researchers grow brain organoids in a lab, just like they would develop in the fetus


Organoids, tiny clusters of tissue derived from stem cells, allow researchers to replicate the complex organs outside the body while also controlling conditions around them. The use of organoids in scientific labs is not new. However, scientists have faced trouble developing them in a reliably consistent way, making results difficult to interpret.

Copying from nature

Alex Shcheglovitov, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah, and his team turned to nature to make their organoids reliably. They used human stem cells and then prompted them to become neuroepithelial cells. These specific types of stem cells can self-organize in Petri dishes into structures called neural rosettes.

The researchers allowed these cells to grow on their own in the lab and found that the structures coalesced into spheres and increased in size at a rate similar to that of a developing brain in a growing fetus.

After five months in the lab, the organoids were similar to the human brain as seen 15-19 weeks after conception, Shcheglovitov said in the press release. The structures contained cells found in the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain that plays a role in various mental processes such as language, emotion, reasoning, etc.

An array of neural and other cell types found in the cerebral cortex

Interestingly, these organoids also pulsated with oscillatory electrical rhythms seen in neural networks while generating electrical signals in mature brain cells.