Animal Testing: Brains Made In The Lab Could Spare Real Animal Brains

Animal testing is one controversial way humans experiment with new drugs to possibly improve the quality of life for humans, but animal testing, at least on the brain, may soon be a thing of the past.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found a way to create lab-grown mini-brains, which are like tiny replicas of human brains. These brains function much like the human brain, and they can tell researchers how certain drugs affect the little lab grown brains, according to the Baltimore Sun.

This is good news for those who are opposed to animal testing based on its effectiveness. Some scientists believe animal testing isn’t reliable to predict what would happen in a human because humans are, of course, different than the animals used for testing.

“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,” study leader Thomas Hartung, Professor and Chair for Evidence-based Toxicology at the Bloomberg School, said through a press release. “While rodent models have been useful, we are not 150-pound rats. And even though we are not balls of cells either, you can often get much better information from these balls of cells than from rodents.”

Scientists took human skin cells and turned them into lab grown mini-brains by reprogramming them into embryonic stem cells. The cells could then be effectively “told” to become brain cells and develop into the lab-grown brains.

This method takes about eight weeks for a little tiny brain to grow. The brains are only about 350 micrometers in diameter, which is just barely visible to the human eye. To compare, the brains would be about the size of a housefly’s eye, according to Motherboard.

While the brains aren’t comparable to a fully formed adult brain, they could possibly end animal testing. Brains that have the same neurons and cells in a human brain which react in the same way to certain drugs and diseases are perhaps more reliable in testing than another animal’s brain.

animal testing brains
“We don’t have the first brain model nor are we claiming to have the best one,” said Hartung. “But this is the most standardized one. And when testing drugs, it is imperative that the cells being studied are as similar as possible to ensure the most comparable and accurate results.”

Hartung has already applied for a patent on the mini-brains and plans to move forward with them in 2016 commercially through ORGANOME. Hartung believes animal testing may end when labs have access to his lab grown brains on a large scale.

It is certainly good news for those who want to end animal testing. Brains made in the lab could spare real animal brains, but animals are used in testing for more than just their brains. However, it may open the door a little wider for the opportunity for researchers to abandon animal testing practices if they have a better option available to them.

animal testing
Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health, believes that lab grown brains are only going to get better with time and could be used to treat patients with mental illness.

“While the technology is still maturing, there is great potential for using these assays to more accurately develop [and] test safety and effectiveness of new treatments before they are used in individuals with mental illness,” Insel said in the release.

These mini-brains may offer a new hope for people suffering from brain illnesses and injuries, but a new hope for animals, too.

[Photo by China Photos/Getty Images]