New ‘mini-brains’ could revolutionise Parkinson’s research

Scientists at John Hopkins University in the USA have been experimenting with tiny human mini-brains in a bid to speed up cures for Parkinson’s and other diseases.

The miniature organs are similar in size to a typical insect’s eye and contain neurons and cells identical to those found in the human brain.

Studies have already confirmed that the brains produce measurable electrical activity.

Additionally, John Hopkins University scientists claim that they can be mass-produced in labs to aid the testing of new drugs, reducing the need for animals – which all too often fail to effectively mirror how human cells act and react under different treatments.

“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,” said study leader, Dr Thomas Hartung MD PhD, of John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We believe that the future of brain research will include less reliance on animals, more reliance on human, cell-based models.”

John Hopkins’ studies confirmed that the brains were producing “a primitive type of thinking”, and that the brains’ “neurons are trying to communicate with each other,” Dr Hartung said.

This means that John Hopkins are able to grow cells from people with certain genetic traits to provide a model for diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

“We have been doing work on Parkinson’s as an example, which we’re publishing, because we can really replicate some of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s in human brain model,” Dr Hartung revealed.

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