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Vanguard Culture’s Breakthrough: The Future Features Cutting Edge Science

UCSD Professor Alysson Muotri discusses brain organoids

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Professor Alysson Muotri discusses his work with brain organoids and how he connected them to robots. He will presenting a discussion about his work as part of Vanguard Culture's Breakthrough: The Future this Saturday.

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This weekend you don’t have to choose between events because Vanguard Culture brings together an eclectic mix of treats as it hosts Breakthrough: The Future.

Aired: November 1, 2019 | Transcript

This weekend you don’t have to choose between events because Vanguard Culture brings together an eclectic mix of treats as it hosts Breakthrough: The Future.

Vanguard Culture prides itself on bringing together people from different fields and disciplines for events. This Saturday it hosts its final event of the year at IDEA1.

This hopeful vision of the future combines art, science, music, fashion and pop culture into one event. There will be food and cocktails as well as avant garde fashion by Veteran Couture and hybrid humans and creatures of the future from San Diego City College’s Theatrical Makeup and Special Effects class.

UCSD professor Alysson Muotri will be discussing his work on the human brain as part of the groundbreaking science presentation curated by the Fleet Science Center.

I was intrigued by Muotri's work when I heard him speak at the Starship Congress earlier this year. As a fan of science fiction, what I took away from his talk was that he was creating mini-brains in the lab and then adding an eye and letting them run a robot. But let him explain his research in more scientific terms.

"We don't like to call them mini-brains," Muotri said. "We prefer the term of brain organoid because we don't want to give the impression that what we have is a fully mature organized brain. So instead, these brain organoids, they came from the stem cells these are cells that we teach them how to self-aggregate in 3D structures that resemble or mimic early stages of brain development. We do that because we don't have access to the material of the human embryo in uterus. So it's really hard to understand how the human brain is formed in a healthy living fetal brain because we really don't have ways to access experimentally that material. So that's why we rely on these artificial systems outside the body so we can recreate human neural development and we can find instances where the process doesn't fully work an try to fix it with the goal to help millions of people suffering from neurological conditions."

The bottom line is that despite all the research and hundreds of years of looking into the human brain, we still don't know much about what's inside our own heads.

"We don't know nothing about human brains," Muotri said. "It is amazing and that's part of the reason why I decided to become a neuroscientist is to try to give a contribution on how this very complex system actually happens to create memories of feelings. The fact that I tell you now think about a white elephant and your brain projects a white elephant. How does that happen? We have no idea how that happens. That's why I focus on these brain organoids because if you learn what are the major steps on brain formation then we learn how the brain can acquire such a level of complexity."

People coming to his talk at Vanguard Culture's event can expect to hear about the latest technology that's coming from the stem cells and what the potential applications of this research might be.

"I use stem cells to understand how the brain evolves," Muotri explained. "How do our brains compare to our relatives that are extinct such as the Neanderthals. Can we learn something about what make us humans? So it is a lot to focus on disease and on how how far we are to understand and to provide new treatments. But also there is lots of fundamental basic science that is done to get to that level that have also important implications. For example, can we use how the brain computes to create a new form of artificial intelligence that would be more human-like. So these are the kind of things that are cooking in the lab and I think people would be fascinated by hearing about them."

Sometimes real science is more provocative than science fiction. Check out science on the cutting edge and you can also enjoy a mini-runway fashion show, craft cocktails and gourmet bites.

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