Human brain cells have been grown artificially in the laboratory in a world first for Scottish scientists. A team at Edinburgh University managed to turn embryonic stem cells into stable nerve stem cells used in the brain by adding a cocktail of chemicals.
The "brain in a bottle" will assist in developing drugs to combat diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's and may eventually enable doctors to repair damage to the brain.
The process has already been patented and an Edinburgh-based company is set to develop commercial applications for the research.
However, other scientists said it would be "highly irresponsible" to create the false hope for patients that the research was even close to growing transplants for such a complex organ as the brain.
Edinburgh University gained one of the first licenses in the UK to carry out medical experiments with embryonic stem cells, cells from an early embryo that can grow into any cell in the body, reports Scotsman.
The work comes three months after scientists at Newcastle University cloned a human embryo using donated eggs and genetic material from stem cells. Human embryos were first cloned last year by South Korean scientists.
In the short term, the technique will allow scientists to develop cell cultures for their research. "We'll use them in the basic biology sense to try to understand how stem cells work," Professor Pollard said. "It's a good opportunity to understand what the difference is between an embryonic stem cell, which can make anything, and a brain stem cell, which can just make brain."
Through genetic modification, scientists will also use the technique to mimic brain diseases.
Tim Allsopp, the chief scientific officer of Stem Cell Science, the company given an exclusive license to commercialize the research, said: "The remarkable stability and purity of the cells is something unique in the field of tissue stem cells and a great step forward.
We have already had a number of approaches from pharmaceutical companies interested in using these cells to test and develop new drugs, and are looking forward to working with them to further develop and license the technology," informs Guardian.