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Mini-brains Made from Teeth Reveal New Discoveries on Human Interaction, Neurology

Jan 13, 2017 10:35 AM EST

It appears science is just about to get weirder. It seems tiny brains grown in dishes can reveal the secrets of why we are social. "Balls" of brain tissue generated from stem cells are enabling scientists to interpret the differences between people who struggle to be sociable and those who have difficulty joining others.

According to New Scientist, Alysson Muotri at the University of California and his team are able to create mini-brains by exposing stem cells from the pulp of children's milk teeth to "cocktails of growth factors."

They were then able to develop as many as six layers of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer surface of the brain. This region is much more sophisticated in humans than in animals, and they house important circuitry governing even the most complex thoughts and behaviors such as socialization.

These mini-brains are just 5mm across. They're not as defined as what we have, but they're as developed as an embryonic fetus.

Nature says understanding how brain development affects sociability needs further study from children with autism and Rett syndrome and Williams syndrome. The former are characterized by impaired communication skills. The last one is a condition characterized by a hyper-sociable nature. This urges people to talk to even the strangest of strangers.

The study said that they figured out that mini-brains that were grown using stem cells from children with autism to form fewer neural connections.

Meanwhile, those with Williams syndrome have an abnormally high number. When cells from the teeth of children with none of these conditions were used, the mini-brains were just somewhere between the extremes.

The same patterns were observed when they used brains of deceased people with these disorders.

The research suggests that the brains of people with autism also seem to have a higher number of inhibitory neurons, or cells that damp down the signals in the brain. 

Now, the team wants to try stimulating the mini-brains just to see how they react. They plan to develop eye-like tissue that can sense light and hook these up to the mini-brains.

Hopefully, this work can lead to treatments for conditions that affect sociability, as the work is a good demonstration of the mini-brains to understand the early, cellular features of neurological disorders. 

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