Hi Reddit! From May 30-June 2nd, I'll be working on Mainly Mozart's "Mozart and the Mind" series in San Diego which seeks to highlight the genius on every brain. I'm speaking about the differences we observed in autistic brains and how this information can help these individuals to have a better quality of life.

I'm a neuroscientist and professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine, heading the Moutri Lab. We develop protocols to turn stem cells intro brain organoids. These “mini-brains” can be derived from people like you and me, so we can have our own brain avatar in the lab. We use them to understand why the human brain is so unique and to help people suffering from neurological conditions, like autism.

Tickets and info are available here: https://mainlymozart.org/mozart-the-mind-2019-calendar-events/

Further details are available here: https://mainlymozart.org/mozart-the-mind-presents/ Excited to get started!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/jcc6q32ofgy21.jpg

EDIT: Had such a blast answering all of your questions! I have to run for now, but will do my best to pop back in and answer more today and tomorrow. If you're in San Diego, please check Mozart and the Mind out! If you'd like to stay in touch, you can follow me on Facebook here -> https://www.facebook.com/muotri/

Comments: 914 • Responses: 66  • Date: 

DrunkWino561 karma

For laughs, do you ever turn to a lab assistant and cackle "Igor, fetch me the brain?"

MozartandtheMindAMA363 karma

ha! no, but that's a good one!

orangejulius358 karma

How does a mini brain cloned from stem cells help those with autism?

What causes autism?

MozartandtheMindAMA478 karma

A major factor that causes autism is genetics. However, the genetics is complex, as more than a thousand genes are implicated in the condition.

We can compare how the neuronal network is affected in minibrains derived from autistic individuals to a neurotypical group. We previously found that the "autistic networks" develop in a distinct way. We are learning how we could help that by testing approved medications in these minibrains. We hope to find therapies that are more efficient and specific for people on the spectrum.

Scoundrelic178 karma

Have you damaged a neuronal network and tried to reroute or regrow that section?

MozartandtheMindAMA264 karma

yes, it worked in the lab.

BABOU_theOCelott79 karma

As a thing to add about genetics. Apparently the social traits of autism are linked to different genes than non-social traits. Basically, genetically speaking you wouldnt consider autism a single disorder.

MozartandtheMindAMA120 karma

correct. There are many different conditions under the umbrella of autism. That's why we call it "spectrum of autisms".

DragonosaurusRex273 karma

Hello! I’m curious, when you make a brain organoid, is it possible for them to be sentient? Do they display signs of consciousness? How would you look for the signs and record them, if they exist? Also good luck on your research, it’s amazing!

MozartandtheMindAMA273 karma

This is a great question and we don't know yet. We are designing experiments to test this possibility. Stay tuned.

Daukash207 karma

I am a high functioning person on the spectrum. I also have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and untreated chronic pain. Have you(or anyone you know) done any studies about the differences connective tissue issues can have on the brain or the impact of untreated chronic stimulus(pain in my case, but I assume most stimuli would have an effect) on the development of a brain over time?

Edit: I just wanted to say it is both nice and terrible to see responses from so many people in similar situations. I look forward to reading that dissertation on the 28th and hope that more research will be done in the future on the potential relationships between ASD and other heritable syndromes- specifically but not limited to EDS. If anyone want to contact me please feel free to do so here or on Discord with a DM. I am Daukash#0001 on Discord.

MozartandtheMindAMA166 karma

Great question. This is unexplored as far as I know.

SuperbSample111 karma

How often do you have to deal with anti-vaxxers?

MozartandtheMindAMA241 karma

All the time. I hope science education will prevail eventually.

trex00593 karma

You you believe that if we develop the technology continuously patch the brain, the old portion will continue to rewrite the new parts, much like raid drives when one fails, effectively giving us the ability to replace much of the brain while remaining the same person?

MozartandtheMindAMA110 karma

That's an interesting question. I think we can design an experiment using the minibrains to answer it. As for now, I think my answer will be speculative.

PMacDiggity89 karma

What considerations have been given to the potential ethical issues? Such as: is there a threshold in the complexity/scale of these "mini brains" at which point they could be considered alive/feel pain etc.?

MozartandtheMindAMA120 karma

We discuss these issues all the time in the lab with my group. Since this technology is quite new, there are many unknowns. However, I must stress that everything we do has to be approved by an ethical research committee. As the technology evolves and we learn more about it, more ethical issues are to appear. That's why is important to let the society know what we are doing inside the labs. BTW, in Oct at UCSD we will have a big symposium to discuss the ethical implications of these mini-brains, stay tuned!

laceytheface78 karma

Do you have any idea as to whether these little brains can help other neurological issues, like TBI or chronic migraines? Or is the primary use and focus on mental illness as opposed to physical?

MozartandtheMindAMA103 karma

Yes, we have some other projects in the lab. Migraine is one that we are just starting.

BentGadget77 karma

Is cord blood storage a useful practice for parents to protect their children against the possibility of a future disease that can be treated with stem cells? Or is it $125 a year down the drain?

MozartandtheMindAMA122 karma

Cord blood can be used for diseases like leukemia. The clinical use for other conditions, including autism, is still experimental (in clinical trials now). So, if you have a history of blood disease in the family, I would highly recommend it.

thesavdawg67 karma

Aside from spending time exercising, mindfulness, and practicing a healthy lifestyle, what are other things that may not be as commonly known that someone can routinely do to help strengthen mental health or combat depression? I'm not at all knowledgeable about neuroscience but I am curious whether there is any correlation between stem cells and brain plasticity and maintaining strong mental health?

MozartandtheMindAMA134 karma

Yes, socialization. If you can combine your exercise, mindfulness and healthy lifestyle with a better social life, your brain will love it. Our brains are programmed to be highly social.

packy2147 karma

As i am on the spectrum, i know aspergers has its strong feats. Do you see a possibility that in the future we can 'take out' the downsides like decreased social capabilities and keep in the good stuff?

MozartandtheMindAMA65 karma

That's exactly my goal!!! If we understand what are the network defects related to the downsides, we can design specific treatments for that, leaving out the good stuff.

enantiomersrule45 karma

Hello! In one of my neurobio courses in undergrad, I learned that autism is oftentimes caused by an excess of synaptic connections, and that some of these connections are not "pruned" or trimmed during early development, which can lead to autism. Would there be any way in the future to treat this during early development?

MozartandtheMindAMA63 karma

Yes, the idea of not pruned connections is still a theory and might be true for a fraction of autistic individuals. We believe, our minibrain technology can be used to find treatments that could help to compensate for this lack of pruning during early days. In fact, others have shown that autistic-like symptoms in adult mice could be reversible. There is no reason to believe otherwise for humans. We just need to learn how to do this.

zytz42 karma

Are there any potential applications for stem cell therapies in patients with relapse-remitting MS?

MozartandtheMindAMA23 karma

I am not aware of any. I don't think so.

WigglySchlong36 karma

How easy are stem cells to get?

MozartandtheMindAMA45 karma

Easy but time-consuming and expensive.

Run_like_Jesuss33 karma

How do you use this application to help autism? As someone that struggles with autism, I'm quite interested in hearing what it could do for somebody like me.

MozartandtheMindAMA40 karma

We compare how the neuronal network is affected in minibrains derived from autistic individuals to the neurotypical group. We found that the networks develop in a distinct way. We are learning how we could fix that by testing approved medications. We hope to find therapies that are more efficient and specific for people like you.

-Varion32 karma

Curious as to what inspired you to pursue this work?

MozartandtheMindAMA106 karma

Initially, I was interested in finding what makes the human brain so unique compared to other species. Our brains are incredible from the perspective of socialization and technology. However, we don't have human models, thus, I decided to use stem cells to create one. Later, I become the father of an autistic boy. He is now my major inspiration!

bill_b431 karma

My step-son inherited a genetic disorder called "Fragile-X". Is there any chance gene-therapy or stem-cell treatments might one day help him or others with this malady?

MozartandtheMindAMA56 karma

Yes, we do have minibrains from Fragile-x individuals and we are currently testing a novel drug treatment and a potential gene-therapy approach. It is early days but looks promising. fingers crossed!

popularsporks30 karma

How valuable do you think stem cell research is and will continue to be in the future?

MozartandtheMindAMA40 karma

This is a very powerful technology, we are just starting to learn about it. The future is very promising for stem cell research. There are many fundamental research applications and clinical trials going on.

Juuliath0027 karma

Could AI ever truly be conscious?

MozartandtheMindAMA46 karma

There is a huge debate about this topic. Right now, I don't think we are close to that. However, if we modify AI to learn how the organic brain does, then I think there is a possiblity.

piquepick26 karma

What does a mini brain look like? Is it cells in a petri dish? Or are we talking mini brain in a jar type thing?

MozartandtheMindAMA52 karma

In a petri dish. They look like small white balls floating in a red solution. You can see them at naked eye. They reach 0.5 cm by 6 months of age and you can keep them alive for years.

Luksan723 karma

Have you tried giving cerebral organoids psychedelic compounds like psylocybin or LSD?

MozartandtheMindAMA25 karma

on going!

sacala23 karma

I hadn’t heard of this before. Do you know of any other labs that are using stem cells in a similar way to help people with schizophrenia?

MozartandtheMindAMA34 karma

Yes, there are. We do have some schizohrenia-derived mini-brains in my lab too. I like to compare them with the ones derived from autistic individuals.

abifr200023 karma

My whole family has Autism Spectrum Disorder to some extent. Clearly it’s genetic, but are their any “nurture” elements that can be used to treat autism? Or does the whole thing stem (forgive the pun) from the “nature” side, including treatment

Thank you for the work you’re doing

MozartandtheMindAMA35 karma

Although the genetic factor is quite strong in autism, it is not deterministic. Therapies, like ABA, have shown that the autistic brain is still very plastic. Moreover, our own data suggests that, in the right environment, even neurons with severe genetic alterations can thrive. The challenge is to translate this to the real world. Keep your heads up, we will see better treatments for autism in the coming years.

RobertNeyland21 karma

What would be the possibility of using stem cells to regrow certain parts of the brain that may be damaged, like an optic chiasm that was damaged removing a glioma?

MozartandtheMindAMA33 karma

Yes, this is regenerative medicine. I do think we will be doing this in the near future using cell reprogrammed from the patients.

ManWithoutModem19 karma

What is your feeling about using CRISPR/cas9 on children to prevent diseases in the future? Do you think it is feasible?

MozartandtheMindAMA25 karma

Yes, this is a very promising technology. However, we are not quite there yet. The current enzymes have off-targets and in the next years or so we will learn to make it better. There is no return for this application in medicine.

CrippleBat19 karma

What are the notable result differences between male/female duplicate brains if any; are there notable differences between blood types?

MozartandtheMindAMA29 karma

We have not explored yet, differences between male and female. We see no differences regarding blood types.

NootropicHippy16 karma

can you make tiny clone humans with those brains?

MozartandtheMindAMA35 karma

These minibrains are actually clones of the real ones. So, if I use your cells, there will be your minibrain in my lab because the cells capture your genomic content.

Kelter_Skelter36 karma

What if my microbrain is secretly concious and I could be dooming them to a existence of torture like that Black mirror episode with the bear

MozartandtheMindAMA34 karma

It is hard to determine if a minibrain is conscious or not. We are testing some possibilities. If yes, scientists and ethicists will need to work together to create rules for their use, the same as we did with animal research.

Mxjman12 karma

Have you ever heard of Rett Syndrome (genetic mutation in the X chromosome of the MECP2 Gene) and if so would this type of research be beneficial in finding a cure?

MozartandtheMindAMA19 karma

Yes, we do have models for Rett sydnrome. and MECP2 duplication syndromes. Check this out: https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2015-09-08-stem-cell-derived-mini-brains-reveal-drug-target.aspx

murder00redrum10 karma

Are mini brains unique to each persons stem cells that were used to create it?

MozartandtheMindAMA10 karma

that's correct!

Merari0110 karma

Ok that sounds amazingly cool and scifi. What is the most unexpected development from this technology?

MozartandtheMindAMA20 karma

We don't know how the human brain is formed during early stages in utero. To me, the most unexpected development is to learn how organic human innate intelligence is born. With this information, we can make AI more human-like! My lab is working on this as we speak!

Merari0113 karma

Please install something like Asimov's Laws of Robotics!

A human-like AI sounds like it could also be disturbingly human-like in cruelty and capacity for wanton destruction.

(But seriously, that's awesome! We really do live in the future now)

MozartandtheMindAMA15 karma

All technology can be used for good or bad. It is up to us to guide it. You might enjoy this article: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2018/11/02/lab-grown-brain-organoid-robot/#.XN13tC_MxBw

ItsMe_RhettJames8 karma

Hi! Is there any way this could also help people with Epilepsy? If yes, how so?

MozartandtheMindAMA18 karma

Yes, we have created minibrains from people suffering from epilepsy and we are now testing if they show any sign of seizures. then, we can test drugs to block that. What I like about this, is the possibility of personalized medicine, ie, creating drug combinations that are specific for the individual.

mhvtz7 karma

Do these mini brains have a conscious?

MozartandtheMindAMA7 karma

Likely not but we have not formally tested it yet.

dissenter_the_dragon7 karma

Can I send in a sample like those dna heritage tests and you send me back a little mapped out version of my brain?

MozartandtheMindAMA14 karma

no. We actually need live cells to create an avatar of your brain in the lab.

Sauce-Dangler7 karma

have you had any practical break throughs? for example have you been able to mitigate TBI by promoting new brain cell pathways? Any effective treatment of CTE to reverse brain atrophy? Anything like that? Having a miniature brain in the lab is cool and all... but.... you know.... not very tangible results for us non brain scientists....

MozartandtheMindAMA25 karma

Oh yes. Recently, we create a minibrain model for Aicardi Goutieres syndrome, one of the most dramatic neurological disorder. Guess what, there is no animal model for this condition, so progress was not made for this condition. With our human model, we could generate minibrains from them, find what causes the problem and developed a treatment that is currently in clinical trials. You can learn more in this short video: https://www.uctv.tv/shows/32743

CarelessShop7 karma

How common are savants? What causes an autistic person to be a savant as opposed to low-functioning?

MozartandtheMindAMA21 karma

Savants are rare. There are several theories about what causes an autistic person to be a savant as oppose to low-functioning. To me, the most attractive idea is about genetics, the genes that are mutated in one vs the other.

snow_john1237 karma

is there a possibility in future that whole brain be replicated??

Can memories also be recreated??

MozartandtheMindAMA12 karma

I love this question. I don't know. The brain is formed in uterus with input and output from other organs and tissues. Our current technology can create minibrains with no other body parts, yet. As the protocols evolve, we will need to add stimulation so the brain can record memories. For this to happen, we need first to recreate a fully functioning brain with all regions (cortex, hippocampus, etc).

adyfim5 karma

what are the main differences between a brain organoid and a regular brain?

MozartandtheMindAMA10 karma

These minibrains or brain organoids, are smaller so they don't have the same number of neurons. They are also not vascularized and they grow in the absence of a body, so they are not connected to anything. They are very different from the real brain, they are a model. Even with all these limitations, it is a useful model for science.

b_dubb_5 karma

Are you familiar with the neurological condition Misophonia?

Some research suggests it might have some relevance or connection with autism?

Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

MozartandtheMindAMA9 karma

Yes, misohphonia, similar to other synesthesias, is likely caused by mixed sensorial connections in the brain during development. Some theories suggest that a fraction of autistic individuals might have different forms of synesthesias in different levels.

parkerjstevencent4 karma

This is amazing and also very complex stuff. When you were a child did you like to play with Jigsaw Puzzles?

MozartandtheMindAMA5 karma

Loved it!

That-Thou-Art4 karma

Probably a dumb question but how do you know that the stem cells turn into a miniature version of the donor's brain? Couldn't it turn out differently?

MozartandtheMindAMA7 karma

Yes. althought these minibrains do capture the genetic information from the donor, the way they develop is different from the real brain. So, all the data must be analyzed with this limitation in mind.

sleepingnightmare3 karma

Have you done any studies on narcolepsy?

MozartandtheMindAMA4 karma

not yet. A very interesting topic though.

RexyaCSGO3 karma

For conditions that are neurological but physical manifestations like tinnitus and visual snow can we expect any success in the field of fixing these often rare tricky neurological problems?

MozartandtheMindAMA8 karma

Yeah, absolutely. One application we have going on is to connect these mini-brains with mini-retinas, to study how the visual cortex is formed. We hope this will be platform to study these neurological conditions and ways to fix it.

thekillercook3 karma

Where do you see this research helping in other brain fields? TBI/PC's?

MozartandtheMindAMA4 karma

Absolutely, this technology can be used to study and help many neurological conditions.

MozartandtheMindAMA3 karma

Yes, virtually, all neurological conditions could be modeled by this technology.

TheNewAi2 karma

What cells need to be replaced/added in the brain to affect autism?

MozartandtheMindAMA11 karma

Autism is not a neuro-degenerative condition. We don't see cells that are dying or need to be replaced. The neurons are there, we just need to find ways for them to work at their best. We can do this by providing a nice environment for them, for example, using medicine that improves synaptogenesis (brain cell connections).

DrBear115 karma

Are these new medications that you’re trying or one that are already on the market but used in a different way.

MozartandtheMindAMA3 karma

yes, some are, others are novel.

TheNewAi3 karma

How do you extract the initial stem cells?

Thank you.

MozartandtheMindAMA8 karma

We "reprogram" somatic cells, such as your skin or hair cells. This cellular reprogramming is a simple step by activating 4 genes in any cell type and making them behave like embryonic stem cells. From them, we developed robust protocols to make minibrains.

MachoToast11222 karma

Has Cartman ever offered you some aborted fetus’?

MozartandtheMindAMA17 karma

Funny, but a nice opportunity to clarify something! Scientists on serious academic institutions have constant ethical board supervision. Fetal material is a sensitive subject and regulated in many instances, as it should be.

Scoundrelic2 karma

Hello, what's the processing power of "mini-brains" and can we one day surgically insert, or even stimulate further growth of, a "mini-brain" directly onto our own?

MozartandtheMindAMA3 karma

We are still learning what is the processing power of these mini-brains. Our data indicate that they follow what is expected for human development so a 6 month old brain organoid might have network similarities to a newborn brain: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/mini-brains-show-realistic-neuronal-firing-rhythms/

We are now stimulating them to see if we could improve the maturation. Regarding creating a mini-brain directly onto your own, I would say this is possible but might be dangerous because we don't fully understand how it will connect with the host brain.

FurryPornAccount2 karma

Is it possible for the tiny brains to experience anything at all themselfs?

MozartandtheMindAMA3 karma

We don't know yet. I think it might be possible if we have the right conditions.

HysteriaLaughs2 karma

As someone on the spectrum, I'm rather interested in what actually makes my brains tick. What differences in structure do you usually look for?

MozartandtheMindAMA6 karma

We have noticed some alterations in cell migrations at early stages (embryonic, fetal stages). There are also alterations on the morphology of the neurons. They look less arborized, more like immature neurons when compared to the same stage from neurotypicals. The good news is that none of these differences are permanent and could be reversible (at least in a dish).

Hoarder-of-Knowledge1 karma

what did you study to end up with this career?

MozartandtheMindAMA3 karma

Biological sciences as an undergrad and human genetics for my PhD. My postdoc was on stem cells and neurosciences.

bricknovax89-7 karma

You think your better than me ?

MozartandtheMindAMA6 karma

no.