Mini-brains were created using cells from healthy adults. They will eventually reduce the reliance on animals in lab experiments and drug testing.
Researchers from John Hopkins University have developed tiny brains that contain a network of neurons and other cells and replicate the structure and functionality of the brain.
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These ‘mini brains’ will be used for studying various brain disorders as well as for drug testing and appears to be a more realistic approach to get an insight into neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
This will eventually put thousands of animals like mice and rats out of work that have been widely used for lab testing right now.
“Ninety five percent of drugs that look promising when tested in animal models fail once they are tested in humans at great expense of time and money,” said lead author Thomas Hurting from Bloomberg School. “While rodent models have been useful, we are not 150-pound rats. Even though we are not balls of cells either, you can often get much better information from these balls of cells than from rodents.”
Researchers have used Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells or iPSC to create mini brains. These are the types of cells that can be grown directly from adult cells and can form a human brain-like structure on their own over the course of eight weeks.
Mini brains are very small, just 350 micrometers in diameter and are barely visible to human eye. Hundreds of thousands of brains can be produced in a single batch. After just 2 months, four types of neurons could be visible which will exhibit electrical activity of the brain as well. Whenever drugs are tested on them, they will be recorded with an array of electrodes. These electrodes are similar to electroencephalogram, or EEG which will track the electrical communication between neutrons and help notice changes if there are any.
Researchers are currently working on to create mini brains using cells from skin of healthy adults but they will likely use cells from diseased people too for developing mini brains cell and will try to better understand diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and even autism.
Every year more than 25 million animals are used in biomedical experimentations where they are bound to undergo various painful procedures from poisoning, burning of skin to damaged brain to losing sight. Still the outcome does not coincide with expectations and is more often than not considered unreliable
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Hartung believes that “the future of brain research will include less reliance on animals and more reliance on human cell-based models.”