Scientists have come up with miniature brains grown in a lab which exhibit remarkably similar activity to preterm babies brains. This dispels the idea that human brains need to develop in a womb or be connected to other organs to function.
Scientists have since long thought that human brains need some input from other organs and from other mother’s uterus to thrive.
Alysson Muotri at the University of California, San Diego and his colleagues developed a new way of making brain models from stem cells. They added special growth factors and other chemicals to make the stem cells grow into various brain cell types that then spontaneously assembled into brain like structures.
Each artificial brain grew to about half a centimeter in diameter over a period of 10 months. Using tiny electrodes to measure electrical activity, the researchers found that they began producing simple brain waves at about two months.
Over time, these brain waves became more complex, suggesting the individual brain cells were starting to communicate with each other and form networks.
The researchers found that the way these brain waves evolved resembled the early development of real human brains. The brain wave patterns developed in a similar way over time to those of 39 preterm babies born before 28 weeks of gestation who were monitored with electroencephalogram (EEG) brain recordings.
The mini-brains are the first models to display human-like brain activity, however it’s unlikely they have consciousness or can perform complex mental activities, says Muotri.