Neural Activity Observed In Mini-Lab-Grown-Brains By Scientists

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By Mayukh Saha / Truth Theory

Our brain is the seat of all human experiences. But it is a bit of a mystery even now. Scientists have tried several experiments on live animal brains but they’re starkly different than human brains. And it’s unethical to work with live human brains. So, scientists have recently developed something called brain organoid. It is an artificial brain created by using a cluster of different human neutrons which imitates the development of the brain, and as per Cell Stem Cell, it also shows neural activity.

Neurons fire off electrical impulses that convey messages with one part of the body to the other. The paper shows that scientists were able to grow a brain from almost nothing and it started to show such activity, similar to the actual brain. The author Hideya Sakaguchi, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow working at Kyoto University currently at the Salk Institute.

It was pretty exciting for Sakaguchi when he first saw the neurons get active in 2016 December. They showed individual activities and were able to show synchronised neural patterns. However, while it might mimic the human brain, they are not quite conscious according to him.

How Is Brain Activity Important?

A neurologist from Canada, Donald Hebb, Ph.D., introduced the Cell Assembly Hypothesis talking about the neural activity of the brain, which included the concept of memory. In ‘92, Science report suggested that neurons tend to wire together if they can fire together. Now, Sakaguchi, using the suggested technique, was able to have similar findings with these brain organoids.

These mini brains are made from cells taken from the cerebrum. A special medium is used to raise them into something like the brain. The team tested the organoids by pulling out some of the neurons, growing them up separately and thereby, creating a new culture called functional neural network. Here, the neurons show synchronised activity which could be seen through imaging.

It’s quite a preliminary observation but it almost seems close to how the early brain would look like. 

About Consciousness 

Growing brain cells is somewhat controversial as the question arises – what if the brain develops consciousness? It would be something like the movie Matrix. However, Sakaguchi is not worried. Showing spontaneous activity cannot be the same as consciousness as the brain is not yet attached to a live body which will help it to sense the world around it. While it is difficult to judge whether it is thinking or not, the mini brains do not have any input which is the basis of consciousness- subject experience. However, if it is placed in a living body, things can change. That’s where Sakaguchi’s worries are situated. 

For now, it’s a thought experiment. But there have been transplants before. Salk Institute has said that human brain cells have been implanted in mice brains and integrated with it. However, the mouse did not suddenly become human-like, though transmission processes started after integration. It’s the same as another experiment done with rat brain integration

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Neuroscientist Hongjun Song, Ph.D talks about this integration and tells that it’s not believable that an organoid would start to think but it should be talked about. 

For now, we are aware that this abstract consciousness requires neural integration. As is now, we learn from the cerebellum and spinal cord that just exciting the neural tissue will not work. Even the legendary, Christof Koch, Ph.D., mentions in Scientific American that a lot of research is needed before consciousness is tackled.

Let’s hope we get more information on this. The studies on the brain are ever increasing, including scientists trying to plug it to the internet too. It’s quite fascinating, to be honest!

IMAGE CREDIT: Fernando Gregory Milan

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