For the first time, researchers have created biological tissue that functions like brain tissue.

The human brain remains one of the least understood organs in the human body, because of its complexity and the difficulty of studying its physiology in a living person. Tufts University researchers today announced development of the first reported complex three-dimensional model made of brain-like cortical tissue that exhibits biochemical and electrophysiological responses and can function in the laboratory for months. On injury, the model (pictured here) mimics the reaction of living brain tissue.

The stated goal of the research is to advance the study of brain trauma, but it also raises the interesting question of whether or not functional brain tissue could be manufactured outside of the body, and what that might mean for any number of disciplines, including computer science. The European Union is presently engaged in a massive project to map the entire human brain in computers, which, it is hoped, will lead to enough understanding of the brain to duplicate its functioning in a machine environment.

An open letter protesting the governance of the project has brought it into question, but not its objective, which remains, essentially, to create a functioning brain in a machine.

The American project, being carried out at Tufts university, is directed toward the study of brain trauma and disease, and improved therapies.

Rather than reconstructing a whole-brain network, the US team, at Tufts University, created a modular design that replicated fundamental features of the brain’s basic functions.

It is probably only a question of time before the brain is mapped in sufficient detail to replicate its function in some way, either by growing a biological version or duplicating it in a machine context. Will such a brain be intelligent? Will consciousness arise in it? We may at present be far from answers to these questions, but less so every day, as recreating the brain or brain tissue is an important scientific endeavor being carried out by many different laboratories in the US and Europe.