Researchers Develop ‘Mini Brains’ for Lab Research


Researchers at Brown University have discovered a way to develop a working brain model using a small sample of cells taken from a rodent, which they hope to use as a replacement for animal brains currently used for testing.

According to the study, the miniature brains were created in order to replace the real deal for drug studies and even experimentation with human brain transplants.  The new technology is believed to cost only 25 cents to produce.

The brain model is created using a small sample of living tissue from an animal like a lab rat.  Researchers extract the cells with a centrifuge used to seed a cell culture.  The process results in the creation of a working 3-D neural network after two to three weeks’ time.  Thousands of mini brains are produced with the same small sampling of cells, each measuring only a third of a millimeter in diameter, reports Brittany Hillen for SlashGear.

“We think of this as a way to have a better in vitro [lab] model that can maybe reduce animal use,” Molly Boutin, co-author of the research paper, said in a press release. “A lot of the work that’s done right now is in two-dimensional culture, but this is an alternative that is much more relevant to the in vivo [living] scenario.”

Once the culture is taken, it takes only a few days for the tissue to begin to form.  Two to three weeks after that, the mini brains are comprised of a complex three-dimensional neural network.

The mini brains are not working, nor are they capable of thought.  However, they resemble the real thing enough to allow scientists to experiment with brain transplants and come up with realistic results, writes Chris Loterina for HNGN.

Researchers hope that the mini brains will allow labs to test treatments and research neurological development, especially for those companies who cannot afford to purchase expensive equipment only to answer a few simple questions.  In addition, they hope to see more scientific breakthroughs as scientists use the mini brains to help prove their own theories, writes Jon Fingas for Engadget.

Researchers hope to see the mini brains used for testing a number of research projects including stem cells, new drugs, and new neural tissue transplants, to name a few.

A similar study was released in August that revealed a miniature brain said to have the same level of development as a 9-week old fetus.  However, researchers for the new study maintain that their work is unprecedented because the technique they use is easy and cheap.