Over the last couple years, scientists have grown blood vessels, skin, parts of organs, and even vaginas in the lab. But now, for the first time, they’ve managed to grow three dimensional, “brain-like” tissue (from rats).
In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tufts University researcher David Kaplan details a process that has allowed him and his team to make 3D brain tissue to study injury.
It’s not, of course, a real brain, you can’t just pop it into a living creature and expect it to function, and there’s a lot more to a brain than a bunch of neurons. But these brains have both grey matter and white matter, organize themselves in a manner much like a brain, and apparently express a much higher number of genes than neurons do when they are simply grown on a two dimensional dish.
The brains grown at Tufts are also unlike the “mini brains” that have been grown before: Those were created using stem cells, and the lack of blood supply keeps them limited to just four millimeters in diameter. Tufts’ brains shouldn’t have that limitation, and they’re able to survive for long periods in the lab, allowing longer-term growth and study.
While the application of studying brain injury (and implants and brain-hacking) is really interesting, it’s important to note the continued and rapid evolution (used non-ironically) of our ability to grow human body parts. Between growing and 3D printing, we’ll soon be able to replace almost any body part with a suitable, biological replacement.
First the replacement parts will be suitable, but not perfect, replacements, then they’ll become just as good in most ways, and then quickly we’ll have parts better than the original. That’s when things get crazy.