They treated the stem cells with chemicals to return them to an embryonic state and then watched them as they began to grow into an early brain.
Compared to the way previous organoids had grown, the stem cells from the individual with microcephaly stopped dividing earlier, so they had fewer total stem cells with which to build a brain, resulting in a smaller overall brain size.
"So in this, we understand how microcephaly developed in one individual patient," Lancaster said.
Their hope is that by studying the process of microcephaly and other developmental problems in many individuals, they will find new ways to diagnose and perhaps treat these kinds of conditions.
For more on brain development through childhood and adolescence, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
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