AxoSim has acquired exclusive rights to lab-grown brain miniatures, coined “Mini-Brain,” a technology developed at Johns Hopkins University that uses stem cells to create models of the human brain in a dish. This technique may help speed therapy discovery for many neurological diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS).
By mimicking the cells and interactions found in the human brain better than animal models, the Mini-Brain opens a new window to study key brain functions and speed drug discovery for neurological disorders at an early stage of research.
The technology is based on tiny brain-like organoids — very small, self-organized 3D organ models growing in a dish — derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These are adult cells (typically skin cells) that have been reprogrammed genetically to return to an embryonic stem cell-like state. Researchers usually stimulate these cells in the laboratory to grow them into different cell types.
To create bini-Brains, iPSCs are differentiated into brain cells, which are engineered to form tiny, uniform spheres barely visible to the human eye. After several months in lab cultures, these spheres ultimately develop different types of nerve cells and support cells of the nervous system. They also start producing myelin sheaths, the nerve cell insulator essential for the rapid conduction of nerve impulses.
In fact, those miniature brains take about 10 weeks to develop, and resemble the brains of developing fetuses, according to a John Hopkins article written by Julie Scharper.
Importantly, nerve cells on mini-brains can communicate with each other, sending electrical impulses from one cell to the next, and can interact with their surrounding environment. Another important aspect is that the platform can be replicated on a large-scale.
The cells used to derive iPSCs to generate the mini-brains can be collected from healthy individuals or from subjects with certain genetic traits or diseases, including MS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other trauma-related and infectious disorders. This allows the tailoring of the mini-brains to study specific brain conditions.
According to John Hopkins researchers, mini-brains are not only less expensive and easier to maintain than rats, they also more accurately reflect the human nervous system, compared with animal models.
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