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Living “Mini-Brains”, An Alternative To Animal Testing

Those opposing testing on animals in the name of science can rejoice at the endeavour of a team from Brown University who developed “mini-brains” embedded with nervous tissue to be used for their research and which might possibly decrease the use of animals for biomedical research. The procedure behind their brain-child is documented in a paper that is available online.

Mini-brains consisting of neurones and supporting cells created by a bioengineering team from Brown University. Photo credits: Hoffman-Kim lab/Brown University.

The ‘mini-brains’, which are one-third of a millimetre in diameter, are electrically active as they consist of central nervous tissue. They were developed for testing purposes entailing neural cell transplantation and for the study of the development of adult neural stem cells. They can also hopefully be used for testing purposes in the fields of drug research, neural tissue transplants, and scientific works dealing with stem cells.

“We think of this as a way to have a better in vitro [lab] model that can maybe reduce animal use,” says co-lead author Molly Boutin in a press release. “A lot of the work that’s done right now is in two-dimensional culture, but this is an alternative that is much more relevant to the in vivo [living] scenario.”

The scientists started off with existing living tissue to create their mini-brains. They affirm that a small sample of living tissue is enough to generate thousands of the brains by concentrating the cells in a centrifuge to make a cell culture. A day after the cultures are seeded, the brain tissue sphere begins to be fashioned. The neural tissue then requires 2 to 3 weeks to form.

Furthermore, the procedure is relatively cheap.

“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.”

Surprisingly, the mini-brain would cost around 25 US cents only.

“We knew it was a relatively high-throughput system, but even we were surprised at the low cost per mini-brain when we computed it,” added senior author Diane Hoffman-Kim.

It is hoped that the mini-brains might be sold to others needing the resource for biomedical research.

“If you are that person in that lab, we think you shouldn’t have to equip yourself with a microelectronics facility,” said Hoffman-Kim. “And you shouldn’t have to do embryonic dissections in order to generate an in vitro model of the brain.”


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