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It's not science fiction: UC San Diego researchers are developing human organoids — miniaturized, 3D versions of an organ produced from reprogrammed stem cells in the lab. These models, sometimes called "mini-brains" or "organs-in-a-dish," have allowed scientists to study biological functions, diseases and treatments more realistically and in greater detail.

So far this approach has been used to produce the first direct experimental proof that the Zika virus can cause severe birth defects, to repurpose existing HIV drugs to treat a rare neurological disorder, to study the effects of methadone on developing brains, and to explore what distinguishes us from our Neanderthal ancestors.

Now researchers can even detect preemie baby-like brain waves from brain organoids, and the tiny brains have traveled to and from the International Space Station as part of a study of human development in microgravity.

Press releases In the News

Video: Building The Brain With Alysson Muotri (from UCTV Stem Cell Channel)


Photo Gallery

  • Cross-section of organoid infected by Zika virus

    Cross-section of organoid infected by Zika virus. Cortical progenitor cells are red, neurons are green, cell nuclei are blue. Credit: Alysson Muotri, UC San Diego.

  • Organoids in a Petri dish

    Organoids in a Petri dish. Credit: Alysson Muotri, UC San Diego.

  • Alysson Muotri, PhD

    Alysson Muotri, PhD

  • Organoid model of autism spectrum disorder

    Organoid model of autism spectrum disorder. Credit: Alysson Muotri, UC San Diego.

  • Organoid self-organizing

    Organoid self-organizing. Neural progenitor cells are green, cortical layer neurons are red, cell nuclei are depicted in blue. Credit: Cleber A. Trujillo, UC San Diego.