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Researchers create ‘mini-brains’ to study neurological diseases

Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have successfully created mini brains that were grown from induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs). These tiny brains are similar to the human brain, and will be used for testing drugs and treatment options for neurological diseases.4000

The IPSCs are genetically reprogrammed adult cells to an embryonic cell-like state, and are triggered to grow into brain cells. The research team mentioned that the tiny, barely visible groups of human neurons and other cells, imitate some of the functionality and structure of the human brain. The development of these mini brains could be a game changer for neurological research, and the transition towards human cells from animal testing. During an eight week process, these mini-brains form and grow structures on their own.

“We believe that the future of brain research will include less reliance on animals, more reliance on human cell-based models,” said study leader Thomas Hartung, professor of health sciences at the Bloomberg School.

Hartung added that 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. The research could also create a breakthrough in personalized medicine as mini-brains can be grown from the skin samples of any person. It can help in the research on Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis and viral infections. The skin cells of several healthy adults were used to develop the mini-brains.

These mini-brains measure at 350 micrometers in diameter, about the size of the eye of a housefly, and thousand sof copies can be produced in each batch. During two months of development of the mini-brains, they developed four types of neurons and two types of support cells: oligodendrocytes, which create myelin that helps in the insulation of neurons axons and astrocytes.

Hartung is applying a patent for the mini-brains and hopes to commercially produce them through a company called ORGANOME in 2016.

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