If you need a working miniature brain — say for drug testing, to test neural tissue transplants, or to experiment with how stem cells work — a new paper describes how to build one with what the Brown University authors say is relative ease and low expense. The little balls of brain aren’t performing any cogitation, but they produce electrical signals and form their own neural connections — synapses — making them readily producible testbeds for neuroscience research, the authors said.
“We think of this as a way to have a better in vitro [lab] model that can maybe reduce animal use,” said graduate student Molly Boutin, co-lead author of the new paper in the journal Tissue Engineering: Part C. “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.”
Just a small sample of living tissue from a single rodent can make thousands of mini-brains, the researchers said. The recipe involves isolating and concentrating the desired cells with some centrifuge steps and using that refined sample to seed the cell culture in medium in an agarose spherical mold.
The mini-brains, about a third of a millimeter in diameter, are not the first or the most sophisticated working cell cultures of a central nervous system, the researchers acknowledged, but they require fewer steps to make and they use more readily available materials.