Scientists are Growing Brains to Treat Dementia

Illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Dementia are terrifying to the vast majority of us; the idea that one day we could wake up and not be ourselves anymore, the thought of being robbed of our meaningful memories and being left with no knowledge of who the people closest to us are, these scenarios are some of the worst things imaginable.

In some capacity, most of us have had some experience with these illnesses, whether it is a family member, a friend, or perhaps even if you’ve worked in the care sector.

I did a short work experience placement in care and met a lovely lady called *Janet. At 92 she was strong and had an amazing sense of humor. Her memory though was a tangle of faces, places, and events that flitted in and out of her brain giving her the odd moment of clarity but mostly just confusion.

It is said that after a dementia diagnosis the average life expectancy is around eight years. Towards the end of their life, patients often struggle to communicate with the outside world. Even before the illness progresses this far, patients can become a danger to themselves and their families, turning on stoves and leaving them lit, leaving the house and becoming disoriented, becoming aggressive and easily distressed.

It is an awful illness that attacks a person’s very identity.

The thought of it happening to a close family member or even happening to me is too scary to dwell on.

But there may be some new hope for those of us with this awful disease running through our families.

Scientists have just successfully grown brain cells in a laboratory, these cells reportedly sent tendrils searching for a spinal cord to connect to. When provided with the spinal cord of a mouse embryo the muscles visibly began to move.

Scientists claim that the level of development in this tiny brain is the same as a fetal brain at 12-16 weeks of pregnancy. It is too early developmentally to have thoughts or feelings but the brain that they were able to grow is a huge step forward in understanding neurological conditions.

Our current understanding of these conditions come from scans and for those generous enough to donate their bodies to science. Obviously, we cannot experiment on living human beings, but these brains are extremely close to the real thing, giving scientists a way to safely test out new treatments without potentially harming a human being.

The scientists cultivated part of these brain cells for a year, it continued to grow and develop.
This could be groundbreaking, giving scientists a way to model mental illnesses and neurological conditions, this will develop their understanding and potentially even help them to find a cure.

We look forward to seeing what the future holds, we truly hope it is a cure, or at the very least a method of treatment which keeps these people safely with their families for as long as possible.

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.