He’s got the brains, but…

Scientists from the Ohio State University claim they have managed to produce an embryonic human brain in their labs. Presenting at Florida’s recent Military Health Research System Symposium, lead researcher Rene Anand, a professor of pharmacology, said that his lab team had managed to grow what is the most complete human brain model ever engineered.

He even had photos, to boot. Above is the picture of a white cloudy mass of nerve cells, with a discernable cerebral hemisphere and optic stalk.

Full details of the brain-growing process are currently being kept under wraps by Anand, who has a pending patent on the technique. However, it's believed adult skin cells were converted into pluripotent stem cells through a process of gene alteration. The cells were then grown in a lab where they were engineered to develop into the full range of brain tissues. 

The lab-grown grey matter has around 99% of the foetal brain's cell types and genes, the team says, and even includes a fledgling spinal cord.

Anand and his team are claiming to already have plans for using the brain model for military research, such as understanding the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers.

The research has not yet been peer reviewed and published, and other scientists were hesitant to draw conclusions from what has been announced so far.

Professor Zameel Cader, consultant neurologist at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK, told The Guardian, “When someone makes such an extraordinary claim as this, you have to be cautious until they are willing to reveal their data”.

In a recent blog post, Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu discussed the relevance of this research to debates over embryonic stem cell research and cloning:

“Strangely, there has been comparative silence to the cloning of a human brain compared to the cloning of a sheep back in 1997. Maybe our scientific literacy has fallen.”

Anand and his team see no attendant ethical concerns in their work. “We don’t have any sensory stimuli entering the brain. This brain is not thinking in any way.”

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | neuroethics

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