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Brain illustration | Photo source Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

Cambridge scientists create pea-sized brain that can move muscles

Science

The minature brain sends out tendrils of neurons that cause the muscles to move, just like in the human body

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Spotted:  A group of Cambridge scientists have created a small brain that can develop “tendrils” to connect and control muscles. This is a first for a lab-grown brain, according to the university.

Miniature brains grown in a petri dish (known as a cerebral organoid) are created using stem cells submerged in a vitamin-rich gel. The process allows scientists to explore some aspects of brain development– but not all. The miniature brains would die before they could develop beyond a set point because the gel cut off the oxygen supply.

This limited how much scientists could learn. They could, for instance, study how stem cells infected with microcephaly developed into a smaller brain mass. But there was not enough development to study more sophisticated processes, like the connections with the nervous system.

The Cambridge group figured out how to take a slice of the miniature brain and position it so it was both absorbing the gel in the petri dish and receiving oxygen. This allowed the miniature brain to develop for a full year, providing new insights into how the human brain is formed. Specifically, it gave the brain enough time to develop “tendrils” of neurons that linked up with a 1mm-long piece of spinal cord and back muscle (taken from a mouse embryo) in the petri dish. The brain then sent out electrical impulses, causing the muscles to twitch. The process mimicked how motor neurons work in the human body.

Email: enquiries@mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk

Website: www.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk

Contact: www.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/contact-directory

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