Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, US, have developed ‘mini-brains’ to study neurological diseases.
The development is expected to reduce dependence on animals for neurological scientific research in the near future.
Currently, 95% of drugs show positive results when tested in animal models and fail once they are tested in humans.
The efficacy and safety of drugs can be determined by testing them on ‘mini-brains’ made up of neurons and cells of the human brain.
“When testing drugs, it is imperative that the cells being studied are as similar as possible to ensure the most comparable and accurate results.”
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) were used to create these three-dimensional, brain-like structures with a diameter of 350mm.
These adult cells have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell-like state and were stimulated to grow into brain cells.
Scientists have also used cells from the skin of several healthy adults to create the mini-brains.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher Thomas Hartung said: “We don’t have the first brain model nor are we claiming to have the best one.
“But this is the most standardised 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.”
The researchers claimed to have watched the myelin developing and could see it begin to sheath the axons.
The brains even showed spontaneous electrophysiological activity, which could be recorded with electrodes, similar to an electroencephalogram, also known as EEG.
They were placed on an array of electrodes to listen to the spontaneous electrical communication of the neurons as test drugs were added.
Hartung is filing a patent for the mini-brains and developing a commercial entity called Organome for their production.
The production of ‘mini-brains’ is expected to begin this year.
19 February 2016