Organoids are great 3D models of various organs. Sometimes it's almost scary. This is precisely the case of the new mini-brains that grew simple but functional eyes.
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Organoids – lab-grown tiny versions of various types of tissue and organs – are quite fascinating. This makes them ideal candidates for research of many research teams so one breakthrough follows another. Lately, you might have seen images of mini-brains grown from stem cells that have a simple pair of eyes. While they cannot wink at you they are capable of knowing light from darkness and transmitting this information to the mini-brain.
The human brain is one of the most complex biological structures we have ever seen. Yet, we managed to create its miniature models in a lab. They are made from skin tissue from a donor from which the scientists create stem cells. These are then placed in an environment that resembles a developing brain and thus brain cells are created. The result is a mini-brain. Typically the size of a pea allowing us to do various scientific and medicinal experiments from evolution research to testing Alzheimer's medicine.
Recently, a team led by experts from the University Hospital Dusseldorf took the next step almost touching the line where science crosses into a nightmare. They created mini-brains with eyes. Simple but functional eyes that grew symmetrically right on the front of the mini-brain. These eyes include different types of cells such as retina cells, lentil cells, or cornea cells.
As the research lead – Jay Gopalakrishnan – says, in a mammal the nerve tissue from the retina-cells are connected to the appropriate parts of the brain. So far this wasn’t observed in a laboratory system. The scientists used stem cells coming from 4 different donors from which they created 314 mini-brains and about 72 of them grew simple eyes. The eyes appeared when the mini-brains were about 30-days old and were fully developed at the age of 50 days. This is quite similar to the time frame at which human fetuses grow retinas.
Scientists think similar organoids could become a valuable tool to study fetus growth of both eyes and the brain. And on top of that, they could be used as a research tool for genetic research of the retina. Similar to other organoids they could also be used for testing of medicine, treatment, and even transplants.
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