No Two Brains Are the Same: How Neuroscience Is Advancing to Account for This

A researcher explains the significance of brain organoids

Gabriel A. Silva
Elemental
Published in
7 min readAug 7, 2020

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A human-derived brain organoid. Image courtesy of Alysson Muotri’s lab at the University of California, San Diego

Your brain is not like mine. In fact, your brain is not like anyone else’s. I don’t mean that in some philosophical or abstract way; I mean it literally. The precise wiring of your brain is unique to you. During development, your genes specified a blueprint that resulted in your brain having roughly the same organization as mine. But that genetic blueprint wasn’t designed to specify the precise connection patterns between all the neurons in your brain.

The exact wiring diagram of the networks of cells in your brain is the result of random processes influenced by external and environmental factors and stressors — in other words, the ways in which you interact with the world and the world interacts with you. As a result, how your brain takes in and processes information is also specific to you. You truly are a neurobiologically unique individual. We all are.

But this presents a problem for neuroscience because neuroscientists study “the brain,” and yet we’ve just established that no two brains are the same. So how do we take that into account? We do things like average a lot of data across different individuals, by design smearing out potentially subtle but important differences about how your brain responds compared to how someone else’s brain responds.

For instance: Why do you prefer tomatoes to olives? Or more importantly, why does that migraine medication make you drowsy, but it doesn’t affect a close family member? How is the brain of a child who is on the autism spectrum different from that of their sibling? How and why do those differences limit or enhance what each sibling is able to do? There is a popular saying in the autism community that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

You don’t actually need stem cells or any kind of brain cell from a person to…

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Gabriel A. Silva
Elemental

Professor of Bioengineering and Neurosciences, University of California San Diego