A group of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are currently working on artificial mini-brains that could soon put lab animals out of work. They could also help researchers to find long-sought cures to debilitating diseases.
The mini-brains are being tested under laboratory conditions by other scientists across the nation. Researchers explained that the tiny lumps of tissue and cells are replicas of human brains. So, whenever a new drug would be tested on the mini-brains there are high chances for the drug to be more effective.
The research team explained that they were able to culture the mini-brains by genetically tweaking human skin cells into acting like stem cells. Stem cells are known for being very versatile because they can morph into any kind of tissue. Next, the cells were instructed to grow as brain cells.
Researchers presented the finding during a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Washington, D.C., last week.
When they reach maturity, the mini-brains are 350 micrometer wide, which makes them visible without a microscope. Every mini-brain needs about ten weeks to develop into a tiny version of the human brain. Researchers explained that his team uses special incubators to grow the brains.
Though the cells look like small balls and are an oversimplified version of the brain, they pose the same structures, so they can act just like the real thing.
Thomas Hartung, senior researcher involved in the project and toxicology expert with the Bloomberg School’s Doerenkamp-Zbinden, said that the mini-brains would be better tools to test new drugs than lab animals.
Lab animals’ brains are not as complex as the human brain is. This is why 95 percent of drugs tested on lab animals fail to pass human trials. So, researchers have been looking for a viable alternative to animal testing for years.
But the idea of artificial mini-brains is not new. It was first implemented in 2013, when a team of Austrian researchers developed a pea-sized mini-brain that was very similar to the brain of a 9-week-old fetus. Nevertheless, the mini-brain lacked the ability to think or have a conscience.
But as years flew by, mini-brain research got more complex. In the meantime, Stanford researchers were able to develop a miniature version of the human brain that can replicate how brain cells communicate to one another. As of today, the artificial brains can successfully copy human brain’s architecture, but researchers need to work more on reproducing functioning.
Image Source: Wikimedia