U.S. Researchers Create $0.25 Mini-Brains

Mini-brains could end animal testing.

For those of you whose hearts go out to the poor animals who become our scapegoats in labs for clinical testing of medicinal products, here might be some good news for you.

According to Science Alert, researchers at Brown University in the United States have successfully built working models of our brains, which has popularly been dubbed as the 25-cent mini-brain within the scientific blogosphere during the last week. Living mini-brains, as they are called, are functional in that they are an electrically active sphere of central nervous system tissue, and can easily and inexpensively be used for testing in biomedical research, meaning dependence on animals testing could potentially be reduced.

Mini-brains can be made from existing living tissues taken from a rodent. By isolating and concentrating the cells in a centrifuge and seeding a cell culture, thousands of mini-brains can be created.

It must be noted that a range of alternatives to animal testing already exist, including in vitro testing, computer modeling, and human microdosing.

The mini-brains are 3-D, which is clearly a huge advantage, because it means the cells can actually connect and communicate within a realistic geometry like a real brain, rather than merely across a flat plane as in a 2-D culture, according to ZME Science.

One of the lead researchers involved in the team that have developed the latest 3-D mini-brains, Molly Boutin, commented on the effects of the study’s findings.

“We think of this as a way to have a better in vitro [lab] model that can maybe reduce animal use. 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.”

The optimism of the research team at Brown University stems from the simplicity and relative ease with which these mini-brains can be developed. The brain tissue sphere starts to form just one day after the cell cultures are seeded, and the development of the neural network of the full mini-brain takes less than three weeks, meaning it is cheaper and quicker than many other methods for studying the central nervous system. Another lead researcher, Yu-Ting Dingle, stressed this point, saying 3-D living mini-brains could easily be accessible to labs everywhere.

“The materials are easy to get and the mini-brains are simple to make. We could allow all kinds of labs to do this research.”

Remarkable, but like a number of scientific inventions of great consequence, the development of mini-brains was an accident. The research team was merely looking for ways to supplement their own research in the areas of neural cell transplantation and studying how adult neural stem cells develop. But a lack of options led the team to try out creating their own mini-brains, which they now plan to use for their research.

It is time we seriously began pursuing alternative models like mini-brains to conduct medical research, because cutting up an animal in the name of science is not only unethical, but outright brutal in this writer’s opinion.

[Photo via Brown University / brown.edu]