In the lab, drug testing, neural tissue transplants and brain experiments involving stem cells are usually performed on lab rats.
Now researchers from Brown University have developed a method that gets around animal testing. They created a simple and inexpensive way to grow tiny balls of living neurons that form networks and are electrically active.
Rat Limb Grown In The Lab
The living "mini-brains" are excellent testbeds for neuroscience research. What's more, a small sample of living tissue from a single rodent can make thousands of these brain balls for about 25 cents each.
"We think of this as a way to have a better in vitro model that can maybe reduce animal use," said graduate student Molly Boutin, co-lead author of the new paper in the journal Tissue Engineering: Part C.
The mini-brains, about a third of a millimeter in diameter, are made by isolating and concentrating the desired cells and then adding them like seeds to a culture in a spherical mold. It takes about two to three weeks for the cells to grow into a complex 3-D neural network.
According to the press release, the mini-brains are not the first or the most sophisticated clump of brain tissue out there, but they're grown in fewer steps and cost just pennies to develop.
10 Amazing Parts Created Outside The Body
The study's senior author Diane Hoffman-Kim, associate professor of molecular pharmacology, said that her team will use the mini-brains to test methods for treating Parkinson's disease and Boutin will use them to study how adult neural stem cells develop.
Research persists; lab rats rejoice. It's a win-win.
via Brown University