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Scientists grow 'mini BRAINS' striving to cure motor neuron disease

Mini brains have been grown in a lab by scientists striving to cure motor neuron disease. 

The tiny organoid - approximately the size of a lentil - was made of connected human brain cells, according to Daily Mail.

It was then able to create connections with nearby spinal cord and muscular tissue. 

Scientists say they were able to see it spontaneously merge with the spinal cord of the animal while also contracting the muscles. 

Madeline Lancaster, who led the work at the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, said: 'We like to think of them as mini-brains on the move.' 

The structures were grown from human stem cells and using a method which allowed for the organoids to grow for longer than previous experiments. 

Stefano Giandomenico, a researcher in the group, helped develop a method for growing a slice of cerebral organoids on a membrane at the air-liquid interface. 

This gives access to the nutrient-rich liquid media below and oxygen in the air above and allowed the mini-brain model to be maintained in the dish for longer, so that it could mature further. 

It had similar structures and processes to that of a developing human brain at 12-16 weeks of pregnancy. 

'It's still a good idea to have that discussion every time we take it a step further,' said Dr Lancaster. 

'But we agree generally that we're still very far away from that.' 

It contains millions of joined nerve cells similar in capacity to the cockroach and zebrafish. 

It could have important implications for our understanding of a range of diseases, including schizophrenia, autism, and depression. 

Similarly, this model could shed light on conditions in which connectivity is disrupted, such as stroke or dementia. 

Although this new approach allows better maturation of mini-brains, they are still very small and lack the full repertoire and organisation of brain regions that are required for higher cognition.

Nevertheless, they have the potential to significantly increase our knowledge and understanding of neuronal development.