Using animals for laboratory testing may soon become history thanks to Dr. Thomas Hartung of John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School. He and his team designed and have grown the “mini brains” in the lab that are believed to be better test subjects for drug development as they are obtained from human cells. Mini-brains are truly tiny at 350 millimeters in diameters, approximately the size of the eye of a housefly.
The researchers reprogrammed adult skin cells into embryonic skin cells that were then grown for eight weeks to make the brains. It was enough time for the mini brains to develop four types of neurons and two types of support cells, known as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. The mini brains were then tested by placing on an electrode array and the researchers listened to the neuron’s electrical communication since the drugs were added. Scientists can grow hundreds of test subjects in one petri dish as they’re so small, and hundreds to thousands of identical copies can be produced from each batch.
“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 is currently in the midst of applying for a patent for his mini brains and hopes to produce them commercially this year. He is expecting the widespread usage of mini-brains in the laboratory work in the future since they are easily reproducible. Not only will this stop using animals in the labs, but also, it has the potential to further research to study Alzheimer, Parkinson, and even autism.