Scientists Are Implanting Mice With Mini Human Brains

Scientists are implanting mice with organoids, complex cell-clusters, that can ideally, help to repair damaged brain tissue.

By Jennifer Asencio | Published

The future gets even more like a science fiction movie with each new advance in technology, and now biologists may have found a way to repair brain damage using cells from our own skin. SyFy reports that biomedical engineers have implanted mice with mini-brains called organoids with some success. Organoids are cell clusters that are more complex than cells but less complex than fully-formed brains.

The experiment began by growing the three-dimensional organoids in a Petri dish, using human cells to develop them for implantation. The mice then had the retrosplenial cortex, an area of their brains responsible for vision, removed and replaced with the human brain organoids. Tests were run on the vision of the mice, indicating that they were able to see and that the organoids were functional, demonstrating stimulation when the mice encountered something to look at.

Unfortunately, not much is understood about the function of the retrosplenial cortex in mice. The site was chosen for the viability of the implant and to measure its survivability in the mice, testing the ability of the human brain organoid to co-exist with the rest of the brain. The researchers are looking at other sites for the implant that can give them a better idea of how much functionality is restored by the organoid.

This finding has vast potential for the treatment of brain damage from injury and disease because if successful, it means that organoids can fulfill the functions of the affected regions. The organoid can be developed from skin cells from the same body, which means the implant will not be rejected as a foreign object, especially since the mice can retain the human brain organoids. Patients suffering from damaging diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s may also find relief from therapy involving organoids, as these conditions are brought on by deterioration that the implants may offset.

A diagram of deep scanning a human brain

The experiments with the mice also hint at potential beyond repairing the human brain. Successful implants in the brain are difficult because they involve delicate nerve structures, and if these can be accomplished, the possibility of repairing other organs may not be too far behind. Other organs of our bodies might also be repaired by growing the corresponding organoids to fill in gaps caused by various conditions.

However, this is not a golden ticket to form unhealthy habits or overindulge. The bioengineers are still experimenting with the mice, so implantation into human brains will still take some time to develop, and we still don’t know if they restore functionality in a meaningful way. The potential is there and many of us will see this technology emerge in our lifetime if it is successful, but we still have to take care of ourselves, even when it is available.

It is still good to know that science is exploring these possibilities to such a degree that organoids have been developed because it means that no matter how we do it, humankind will find a way to perform medical miracles. If the mice can handle the human brain organoids in other regions of their brains, this science fiction may be science-fact before we know it.