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Brain cell spheres offer new tool to study disease

Earlier this year my colleague reported on some pretty neat work from the labs of psychiatrist Sergiu Pasca, MD, and neurobiologist Ben Barres, MD, PhD. Researchers there figured out how to create spheres of neuronal cells resembling the cerebral cortex, making functional human brain tissue available for the first time to study neuropsychiatric diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. In an article today the Associated Press highlighted this work, with Malcolm Ritter writing:

It's part of a larger movement over the past few years to create "organoids," miniature versions of the body's organs or key parts of organs. Goals include studying disease, testing possible treatments and perhaps supplying replacements for transplants. Scientists have made organoids representing the intestine, prostate, kidney, thyroid, retina and liver.

This overall organoid approach "is a major change in the paradigm in terms of doing research with human tissues rather than animal tissues that are substitutes. ... It's truly spectacular," says Arnold Kriegstein, who studies the brain at the University of California, San Francisco.

Pasca talks more about the work in the AP video above; Stanford ethicist Hank GreelyJD, also weighs in.

Previously: Brain cell spheres in a lab dish mimic human cortex, Stanford study says

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