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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

When you grow human brains outside of the human body they do odd things, such as become sentient, outsmarting machine AI’s, and now seeing?

 

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Brains that are inside the human body have been able to do amazing thing. But so too have brains grown outside of the human body – inside everything from jars to mice – that have learned how to play games like Pong better than machine Artificial Intelligences (AI), and even spontaneously generated their own brain waves. Now, for the first time they’ve also been shown to respond to things the mice were seeing. The scientists were able to watch the responses in real time thanks to specialized graphene electrodes.

 

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In recent years, scientists have found a way to revert adult skin cells into an immature state that can then be coaxed to form almost any other type of cell in the body. These induced pluripotent stem cells can be used to make tiny but functioning versions of organs, called organoids, in the lab.

 

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Since they’re a more natural, three-dimensional representation of the real thing, organoids can be used to model development, disease and drug responses that are far more accurate than using flat cultures of cells in a dish. Over the years scientists have managed to grow mini versions of brains, hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, stomachs, eyes, pancreases, and even blood vessels, and hair follicles.

Last October, a team from Stanford implanted human brain organoids into rats for the first time, and found that the human cells formed connections with the rat neurons. In the new study, scientists at the University of California (UC) San Diego built on that work by showing that human brain organoids implanted in mice were able to respond to stimuli.

 

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Previously this had been hard to see because the brain activity involved lasts just a few milliseconds, which existing technology has trouble capturing. So the UC San Diego team combined two experimental techniques to image the brain cells.

First, they placed an array of transparent graphene electrodes on top of the transplanted organoids. These devices allowed the team to record the electrical neural activity taking place in both the human brain cells and the surrounding mouse brain tissue. Next, they used two-photon microscopy to image the brains and found that the mouse blood vessels had grown into the organoids, providing them with oxygen and nutrients.

Three weeks after implantation, the researchers ran experiments where they flashed white light in front of the mice, and watched the responses of the different brain cells. And sure enough, the graphene electrodes showed clear signs of electrical spiking, propagating from the visual cortex. That showed that the human organoids had made synaptic connections with the surrounding mouse brain tissue. Over 11 weeks of follow-up experiments, the team showed that the implants were increasingly functionally integrated into the host.

 

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“No other study has been able to record optically and electrically at the same time,” said Madison Wilson, first author of the study. “Our experiments reveal that visual stimuli evoke electrophysiological responses in the organoids, matching the responses from the surrounding cortex.”

In future work, the team plans to model neurological disease progression using this technique, which could eventually help unlock new potential treatments.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: UC San Diego

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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