THE REAL PINKY AND THE BRAIN

The hu­man brain is a bit of a black box. Re­searchers can get a peek with an MRI or biopsy, but they can’t look at brain tis­sue di­rectly un­til you’re dead. As for sci­ence’s trusty hu­man stand-in, mice and rats? Their brains are not that sim­i­lar to us su­per

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - SCIENCE - by Genna Buck and An­drés Plana

THE START­ING MATERIALS

It starts with spe­cial cells called in­duced pluripo­tent stem cells. They’re made by ex­pos­ing adult cells to tran­scrip­tion fac­tors, which switch speci ic genes on or o . This trans­forms them from their spe­cial­ized state back into stem cells that can de­velop into al­most any­thing.

MAK­ING A MINI BRAIN

In 2013, sci­en­tists put these in­duced pluripo­tent

stem cells into a ma­chine called a biore­ac­tor and tossed them in a bath of nu­tri­ents and pro­teins un­til they turned into brain cells. Amaz­ingly, they self-as­sem­bled into com­plex, mul­ti­part, func­tional struc­tures sim­i­lar to em­bry­onic hu­man brains — ex­cept they are the size of a len­til.

INTO THE MIND OF A MOUSE

Now sev­eral re­search teams man­aged to im­plant hu­man mini-brains into the brains of mice and rats. In var­i­ous ex­per­i­ments, hu­man brain bits con­nected to blood sup­ply, grew new neu­rons, and lit up when stim­u­lated.

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