Brown scientists create new kind of mini-brains

Scientists at Brown University have come up with a cheap and simple way to create brains about the size of a pencil dot. The creations are called mini-brains and they are being used as test beds for research.

"The mini brain is a three dimensional ball of cells and we basically take all the cells that are in the brain of a rat and take all the cells apart and re-form them into little balls of cells,” said Molly Boutin, the lead co-author of a newly released study on mini-brains.

The brains don’t have cognitive skills like ours, but they do produce electrical signals.

"It has the basic function of a real brain that allows us to do testing of how drugs or disease acts on the real brain,” said lead co-author Yu-Ting Dingle.

The concept of a mini-brain is not new, but the approach that these researchers took is. The new way of making the technology is what a group of 10 authors from the school detail in a just-released paper being shared across the globe.

"What we wanted to do was to make one that was simpler and also cheaper, frankly, so that many people in the scientific community could access this technology," said the director of the study, Diane Hoffman-Kim.

The cost for each of these brains is only about a quarter.

"We want to use them to explore ideas and diseases in the nervous system. So, one example is to try and understand complex disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease,” said Hoffman-Kim.

Hoffman-Kim explains how scientists use the brains to perform different tests.

"So what we can do is we can add soluble factors, we can add drugs into each of these small dishes with the mini-brain, and then we can test their read out,” said Hoffman-Kim.

There are lots of high hopes for the future of these mini-brains. One of the biggest is being able to create personalized specimens for individual patients.

It takes about two weeks after creating a mini-brain for it to become fully functional.

The researchers tell us it took them about two years to get to the point they are at now.

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