Science Weekly

Miniature human brain grown in lab

Juergen Knoblich and Madeline Lancaster at Austria’s Institute of Molecular Biotechnology and researchers from Edinburgh University’s human genetics department have successfully grown a miniature human brain using stem cells. Researchers created a culture that allowed human stem cells to grow into “cerebral organoids.” The organoids developed several different brain regions, including a cerebral cortex, retina, mengines and choroid plexus after only 20-30 days. The miniature brains reached maximum size of 2–3 millimeters in diameter after two months.

Researchers were then able to use the organoid to examine how microcephaly develops. Microcephaly is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder that causes abnormal growth of the brain. This leads to poor brain functionality and a number of different disorders.

“This is one of the cases where size doesn’t really matter,” Knoblich told reporters. “Our system is not optimized for generation of an entire brain and that was not at all our goal. Our major goal was to analyze the development of human brain (tissue) and generate a model system we can use to transfer knowledge from animal models to a human setting.”

Both the researchers as well as their fellow experts agreed that the development of a fully functioning human brain is still the quite distant future.

Urbanization, hygiene linked to Alzheimer’s

Molly Fox of Cambridge University and the University of Utah’s anthropology department chair, Leslie A. Knapp, released research on Aug. 13 that suggests a strong correlation between a nation’s wealth and hygiene to the development of Alzheimer’s.

The study compared Alzheimer’s rates with different countries. Researchers found that countries that are less urbanized, with higher exposure to microorganisms and poor sanitation, had lower Alzheimer’s rates.

Ex-smokers’ weight gain attributed to intestinal flora

A study backed by the Swiss National Science Foundation busted the popular myth that smokers gain weight due to caloric intake.

Eighty percent of smokers put on an average of 15 pounds after quitting even if their caloric intake stays within the normal range. Gehard Rogler of Zurich University Hospital and fellow researchers attributed the change in weight to the changed bacteria in the intestines of smokers.

Researchers examined the intestinal bacteria found in the feces of 20 different persons within the period of nine weeks. Five of the 20 test subjects were non-smokers, five were smokers, and 10 quit one week after the start of the study.

At the end of the study, the bacterial diversity between smokers and non-smokers revealed relatively little difference. However, the largest change in the bacterial composition was seen in the test subjects who gave up smoking.

Video games reverse negative signs of aging brain

Findings published on Sept. 5 in “Nature” said scientists at the University of California, San Francisco designed a 3-D video game that can improve the cognitive ability in a healthy aging adult.

In the game, players drive a car around a track and watch for a specific sign to appear. They are instructed to ignore all other signs and press a button when that specific sign appears. The video game is designed to improve working memory and sustained attention.

After 12 hours of playing the video game over the span of a month, the 60–80-year-old participants surpassed participants in their 20s who were playing the game for the first time. Participants retained their cognitive abilities and skills at the video game up to six months after the training ended.