Biology

Cost-effective "mini brains" create accessible neural model

Cost-effective "mini brains" c...
A representation of the sphere of central nervous system tissue, or "mini brain", developed by researchers at Brown University
A representation of the sphere of central nervous system tissue, or "mini brain", developed by researchers at Brown University
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A representation of the sphere of central nervous system tissue, or "mini brain", developed by researchers at Brown University
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A representation of the sphere of central nervous system tissue, or "mini brain", developed by researchers at Brown University

Researchers at Brown University have developed a way to create "mini brains" – 3D arrangements of neural tissue that are able to transmit electrical synapses – that, at 25 cents apiece after fixed costs, could provide an efficient means of conducting neuroscience research.

The "brains" don't have cogitation abilities, but they more closely resemble the cell makeup and structures of real brains than do 2D tissue cultures and have several properties that make them similar to real brain tissue for research purposes, including multiple cell types that are able to form synapses, or electrical connections to each other.

Measuring just a third of a millimeter wide, the brains are naturally shaped, with a similar density to rodent brains. They don't require the microelectronics or tissue culture facilities used in other techniques, or contain artificial scaffolding like collagen, while still forming an extracellular matrix of molecules secreted by the cells.

The structures are formed by first centrifuging tissue samples to obtain the right makeup of cells, then culturing those cells in special agarose molds created with technology developed by MicroTissues, Inc. – a startup founded by Jeffrey Morgan, one of the Brown researchers on the project.

According to the researchers, the spheres form complex 3-D neural networks within two to three weeks and thousands of mini-brains can be made from a small sample of living tissue from a single rodent.

Lead researcher Diane Hoffman-Kim initially developed the technique to create a test model for her own lab, where the mini brains could provide a platform to test neural cell transplantation to treat Parkinson's disease, for example.

The method could also cut down on the need to use animals in neuroscience research.

While previous research has resulted in more complex lab-grown "brains", the researchers believe this method will improve accessibility.

"The materials are easy to get and the mini-brains are simple to make," said co-lead author Yu-Ting Dingle. "We could allow all kinds of labs to do this research."

A paper describing the research was recently published in Tissue Engineering: Part C .

Source: Brown University

2 comments
2_OK
If this is right, next thing is to have computers that will have chips and brains working together on solving problems, our limited human brains could not solve. Now, I wonder do they have that already somewhere, and they keep it in some lab to help us. You know, human brain is to short, human brain is to small, we are all limited with our gene pool, school, habits ... etc... Let's imagine this, you have brains and so many computers working on one problem, and those brains are connected to data base that has been extracted from a brain of some dead scientist. OMG, reality is more sf than any movie I have ever watched ...
Ralf Biernacki
This is very interesting; recycled brains! So, rather than the household robots we've all been expecting, we will have cyborgs. I wonder how much of an infrastructure is needed they keep them alive; neurons are quite demanding as far as nutrients and oxygen. OTOH, I don't like the fact that they are obtaining them by putting rat brains in a blender. Next thing you know, it'll be human embryos, and the gray market in aborted baby parts, already doing scandalously well, will get a boost. I definitely don't want cyborgs obtained that way, and am hoping they will find a more ethical way of obtaining brain tissue by culturing animal stem cell precursors. @2_OK: I agree mostly, except for this bit: "they keep it in some lab to help us". If "they" are in fact keeping it in a secret lab somewhere, it's definitely /not/ to help us. Get real. But I don't think they do, not yet.