Brain organoids look like something between a malformed human brain and a character from Monsters, Inc.
But don’t be fooled by their grotesque appearance. Ever since their introduction three years ago, brain organoids—charmingly dubbed “mini-brains” and “brain balls”—have been a darling in neuroscience research.
Made from cells directly taken from human donors, these tiny clumps of cells roughly mimic how a human brain develops. Under a combination of growth chemicals and nurturing care, they expand to a few centimeters in diameter as their neurons extend their branches and hook up basic neural circuits.
Brain balls are as close as scientists can get to recreating brain development in a dish, where the process can be studied and tinkered with. To most neuroscientists, they could be the key to finally cracking what goes awry in autism, schizophrenia, and a myriad of other brain developmental disorders.
But when Dr. Howard Fine, an oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, …