A new method for growing human brain cells could unlock the mysteries of dementia, mental illness, and other neurological disorders.
As Madeline Lancaster lifts a clear plastic dish into the light, roughly a dozen clumps of tissue the size of small baroque pearls bob in a peach-colored liquid. These are cerebral organoids, which possess certain features of a human brain in the first trimester of development—including lobes of cortex. The bundles of human tissue are not exactly “brains growing in a dish,” as they’re sometimes called. But they do open a new window into how neurons grow and function, and they could change our understanding of everything from basic brain activities to the causes of schizophrenia and autism.