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Lab-grown minibrains with ‘eyes’ may advance personalized drug testing, researchers say

Scientists may be able to create personalized drug testing and transplantation therapies for eye disorders, the study found.
Brain organoid
This image shows a brain organoid with optic cups, created by a team of researchers to study retinal development. (Elke Gabriel | CC BY-NC-SA)

No, it’s not something out of a sci-fi movie ― these minibrains may serve a purpose in the real world.

Scientists have grown minibrains with a pair of “optic cups,” eye-like structures each with their own retina, according to a new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell on Aug. 17.

Retinas are responsible for sending signals to the brain and making it possible to see images, said Jay Gopalakrishnan, senior author of the study and a researcher at University Hospital Düsseldorf.

These minibrains’ “eyes” are meant to help researchers better understand brain-eye interactions during embryo development, Gopalakrishnan added.

With enough study, scientists may be able to create personalized drug testing and transplantation therapies for various eye disorders, the study found.

Gopalakrishnan and his team adapted a previously used technique for turning stem cells into nerve tissue to make brain organoids, the miniature organs with eye-like structures, according to the study.

Once the minibrains were created, these miniature organs formed “eyes” as early as 30 days and matured within 50 days, about the time it takes for the retina to develop in human embryos, researchers said.

The researchers ended up making 314 minibrains, with 72% of them containing “eyes,” according to the study. The organoids were made up of lens and corneal tissue, along with retinal cells that responded to light.

Earlier researchers had grown “eyes” individually in labs, but Gopalakrishnan said his team was the first to simultaneously grow these pairs of eye-like structures on minibrains.

“Our work highlights the remarkable ability of brain organoids to generate primitive sensory structures that are light sensitive and harbor cell types similar to those found in the body,” Gopalakrishnan said in a news release.

This isn’t the first time scientists have used organoids to study the human body, Live Science reported.

Organoids were used to make tiny beating hearts, tear ducts that could cry like humans do, and minibrains that made brain waves similar to those of fetuses, the news outlet said.
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