MINI BRAINS, MEGA IMPACT
Do you know what is the most complex machine in the universe? A space shuttle? The Internet? Guess again. The answer is – surprise surprise – YOUR brain! That’s right, not only is the human brain the most complex organ in the human body, it might just be the most complex structure in the entire universe!
Each part of our brain serves a specific function that is essential to how we operate in our daily lives. The most important part though, is one that resides right in the middle of the brain. It is called – no prizes for guessing this right – the midbrain! Despite occupying the smallest region in the brain, the midbrain acts as the command center that manages some of the most important bodily functions including vision, hearing and movement. Unfortunately, this is also where Parkinson’s disease first develops at a cellular level before it envelopes the entire brain and body in debilitation and eventually, death.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that begins by killing cells in the brain, depleting a particular brain chemical called dopamine. Consequently, even simple movements and bodily coordination are impaired, with symptoms aggravating over time. Presently, Parkinson’s disease has no known cause; even worse, it has no known cure. This means that anyone can be afflicted and no one can be cured, at least for now.
For many years, the biggest challenge in the fight against Parkinson’s disease has been the limited access to the human brain, particularly the midbrain, for studies and tests. Recently, however, a team of scientists in Singapore made a great leap forward by successfully recreating the human midbrain – in fun size!
Affectionately dubbed ‘mini midbrains’, these promising inventions are literally miniature versions of the human midbrain grown from stem cells! Mini midbrains are essentially small groups of cells that mimic the functions of the human midbrain, which controls our body movements. These cells constitute a mass of tissues that were grown in a laboratory in petri dishes. Our scientists in Singapore were the first to replicate functioning human midbrain tissue! (Yay team Singapore!) Exactly how mini is ‘mini’, you ask? Think a grain of rice, or a green bean, or the size of your toddler’s first tooth. Yes, they are that tiny! Yet, they are able to perform the actual functions of the human midbrain to a T!
With the development of these mini midbrains, researchers now have access to parts of the brain that are directly affected by the disease. This provides scientists and researchers with a better platform for studying brain diseases as well as testing out potential drugs and treatments. Additionally, due to their small size, mini midbrains can be easily mass produced, greatly expanding the availability and avenue of such vital material for studies and tests by more scientists. This game-changing advancement can help hasten the development of a cure for Parkinson’s, among other brain diseases! With such groundbreaking potential for this ingenious invention, these mini brains might deliver mega impact in the near future!