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How to build a human brain

Some steps for growing mini versions of human organs are easier than others

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3:30pm, February 20, 2018
organoid brain

BRAIN-MAKING 101  As blobs of two types of brainlike tissue fuse, interneurons (green) migrate from the left clump to the right, linking with neurons (not stained) in the right blob. On both sides, neural support cells called glia appear in purple.

In a white lab coat and blue latex gloves, Neda Vishlaghi peers through a light microscope at six milky-white blobs. Each is about the size of a couscous grain, bathed in the pale orange broth of a petri dish. With tweezers in one hand and surgical scissors in the other, she deftly snips one tiny clump in half.

When growing human brains, sometimes you need to do some pruning.

The blobs are 8-week-old bits of brainlike tissue. While they wouldn’t be mistaken for Lilliputian-sized brains, some of their fine-grained features bear a remarkable resemblance to the human cerebral cortex, home to our memories, decision making and other high-level cognitive powers.

Vishlaghi created these “minibrains” at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, where she’s a research assistant. First she immersed batches of human pluripotent stem cells — which can morph into any cell type in the body — in a

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