Philip Ball Mini-Brain, Mini-Brain, Brain Organoid Stem Cells,
News First, Poem Follows
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What It’s Like to Grow a ‘Mini-Brain’ From Your Own Cells
It isn’t every day that writer Philip Ball is asked to contribute to scientific experiments — typically, he’s reporting on them instead. But in 2015, scientists from a London-based project called Created Out of Mind asked Ball and a few other creatives if they’d participate in their work and then reflect on the experience. He agreed.
Ball first gave a sample, made up of cells from his skin, which was reprogrammed into stem cells that were subsequently grown into a brain organoid — or, as the research team called it, a miniature “brain in a dish.” These futuristic-sounding specimens aren’t literal brains, and they don’t look it, either. The round, cream-colored clusters of neurons simply resemble little blobs. They’re not conscious. But they can be studied to better understand brain development — such as where and when certain proteins misfold, which can signal whether a person will develop dementia….
… one day, out of the blue, one of the project leaders dropped me an email with photos and said, “Look, here’s your mini brain.” And there it was … I wish there was some drama to it, but the researchers were pretty casual about it because they grow these things all the time. And I wish I could say that I remember thinking, “Oh my God, this is my second brain,” but I think I was more relieved than anything that it actually grew into an organoid. The fact that they actually got one that had these really clear, discernible structures in it was pretty remarkable. If anything, I felt a little bit proud of myself that we actually created something in the end.
For me, one of the really interesting things I gleaned from the project was that the stuff we are made from is incredibly versatile. The technology of transforming cells from virtually any other tissue in the body is relatively new, and it’s leading to all sorts of directions in medicine and research. I was fascinated to see firsthand what extraordinary things cells — even mature, adult cells — are capable of.
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Mr. Bell’s Brain Organic Symphony, sans Sentient Metronome
For me, it was an engine….
I put in the piston’s torque and the machina was doused in sentience.
The strands of bright are the dendritic sacrifices laying down causeways for the proteins to aspire through.
Daily ticking the count.
Mr. Ball, today, we grimly respond.
The body’s toil is a frenetic re-imagining of the very thought.
Mr. Ball, Brainlet aspired.
Come see, quick.
Mr. Ball’s brainlet had a thought.
I do not like the dark.
I mouthed the words my brainlet aspired, thought.
“I do not like the dark.” The machina
Torqued with the after-effect of response. Brain Organoid.
Out of the sea, rancid angels took hold the dendritic fierce.
Where the energy became the terrible teeth we drew on cave walls, hiding from thunder.
“I do not like the dark,” the mannequin said, in a manner of speaking.
Brain-in-dish dialectic, “I do not fold the sea into the metaphor, rather, I am become that sprawl, though ooze, though sticky forms on the plastic disc.”
Undertow. The body drags itself drowned in the imagined end of brain organoid, ‘Mr. Bell’s Brain Organic Symphony, sans Sentient Metronome.’
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