Here is a fun science-for-kids question: What do you feed your peace loving zombie for dinner? Fake brains! There are neat cells out there called, stem cells, that can grow and change to resemble a brain-like structure. Think of these growing cells like tofu for monsters. No humans where hurt in the writing of this article.
Stem cells grow and form together. When you look at them under magnification they look a lot like the brain tissue of an unborn baby. If you like, you can think of these cell masses as a beginner brain, one that is still under construction. Madeline Lancaster and Jürgen Knoblich offer a more technical name for them: “cerebral organoids.” Working at the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna, these molecular biologists helped develop the almost-brain tissue.
The tiny blobs are not nearly as complex as a full-fledged human brain. They do represent a close approximation, however. These balls of tissue — each no bigger than a BB pellet — developed some of a brain’s structures and cells. As such, the balls point to a new way to study normal brain development and also brain defects. Researchers may also use the organoids to test the safety of new drugs without putting people at risk. Lancaster and Knoblich’s team (some of whom work in England and Scotland) reported its findings August 28 in the journal Nature.
“They’ve done something very remarkable,” Flora Vaccarino told Science News. She’s a neuroscientist at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and did not work on the new study.
The European scientists used stem cells, which are a lot like students. Just as students haven’t yet developed into doctors, scientists and teachers, stem cells haven’t yet developed into the mature cells needed by the body. Stem cells play a key role in the development of an embryo. An embryo is an animal in its earliest stage of development in the womb. Embryonic stem cells will eventually mature into all of the specialized cells that make up our organs, including the brain. Scientists study these stem cells to better learn how the human body develops and how diseases might be treated.