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Tiny human almost-brains made in lab

Stem cells arrange themselves into a version of the most complex human organ

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2:37pm, August 28, 2013
LIKE A BRAIN  A cross section of a lab-grown approximation of a human brain reveals several features, including neurons (green) and neuron-producing stem cells (red).

Largely left to their own devices, human stem cells knitted themselves into tissue with a multitude of brain structures and specialized cadres of neurons in a form reminiscent of the brain of a nine-week-old fetus, scientists report August 28 in Nature.

The tissue doesn’t approach the dizzying complexity of the human brain. Yet these tiny neural balls, each no bigger than a BB pellet, represent the most complex brain structure grown in a lab to date, researchers say. The new work could provide an unprecedented window into the early stages of human brain development, a simple way to test pharmaceuticals on human brain tissue and a way to study the brain defects of individual patients, the study authors suggest.

“They’ve done something very remarkable,” says Flora Vaccarino of Yale University.

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