In the Anima Mundi exhibition, we show a video in Dutch and English, in which we explain how brain tissue can be grown in the lab—outside of the body—from a few skin cells.
From a tiny piece of skin (a skin biopsy: the retrieval of a small round sample, 3mm diameter and 3mm thickness) fibroblasts are isolated. These are grown in the lab and transformed into so-called pluripotent stem cells: cells that can differentiate and turn into stem cells of any type of cell.
Special culture conditions enable differentiation into neural stem cells, which subsequently can develop further into the various cell types of the nervous system.
Differentiated cells can self-organize and form tissue: this way, brain tissue can be formed through the self-organization of neural cells. Further development results in a 3D neural tissue structure: a brain organoid.
Early research showed that the molecular features of a brain disorder in the individual from whom the skin cells were taken also appear in the brain organoid. With that, the brain organoid enables the study of brain disorders in an individualized model, outside of the body.
So far, brain organoids have been very small. The organoid on display in Anima Mundi is approximately 1mm in size. The original size on day 40 was 2mm, but the chemical fixation process made it shrink. In the future, brain organoids may be much larger and have increased in similarity to the real brain.
Will these brain organoids have brain properties or functions, such as sentience, memory, or consciousness? Could there be a "mind"?
If such properties would emerge, what would that mean for brain organoid research?
We would love to hear your thoughts!
Jeantine Lunshof, Eswar Iyer, and Mark Skylar-Scott