Organoids, those laboratory-created tissue structures designed to mimic human organ functions, are now getting into your head.

Last year, researchers created kidney organoids from embryonic kidney cells - no trivial feat, because kidneys are complicated and don't form without the support of blood vessels. The kidney organoids by Christodoulos Xinaris PhD of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research and colleagues was able to be integrated into a living animal and resulted in kidney functions, including blood filtering and molecule reabsorption. Understandably, this is a big topic at Experimental Biology conferences.

A new paper shows researchers going one better; writing in Nature, they detail how they used human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC, not the controversial hESC kind) to create cerebral organoids, including a cerebral cortex progenitor that can produce mature cortical neuron subtypes. They were even able to introduce microencephaly, so obviously there are a lot of studies that can be done with these that are not possible with humans.

A magnified image of a cerebral organoid showing cerebral tissue adjacent to developing retinal tissue (brown pigmented region).  Credit: Madeline A. Lancaster

Their 3-D organoids may also overcome the limitations of studying neurological diseases using animal models, which don'tt share the complexity of human brains.

Citation: Madeline A. Lancaster, Magdalena Renner, Carol-Anne Martin, Daniel Wenzel, Louise S. Bicknell, Matthew E. Hurles, Tessa Homfray, Josef M. Penninger, Andrew P. Jackson & Juergen A. Knoblich, 'Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly, 'Nature (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12517

This has been covered in a lot of mainstream media places and they are all quite good so, unlike when the Higgs boson stories about time travel and whatever else, I can just link to them for good coverage of what this means. 

An embryonic idea - The Economist
Scientists grow mini brains from stem cells by Elizabeth Landau, CNN
‘Cerebral organoids’ have much to teach us - The Independent
Lab-Grown Model Brains by Ed Yong, The Scientist
Scientists grow tiny brain 'organoids' for study - Eryn Brown, LA Times